Rackable debuts 'data center in a box'

Claims ICE Cube 20 per cent more capable than previous version, boasting more than 3.5 petabytes of storage array. A petabyte by the way, is one billion megabytes.

Rackable has introduced ICE Cube, a 'data center in a can' with the claim that it can do more processing and store more data than Sun's similar Blackbox product, while reducing required cooling.

It is the mark two version of an earlier Concento system which was a supercomputer-like system in terms of processing power. It has been well and truly beaten with the new Integrated Concentro Environment, or ICE Cube, echoing in its name a popular hip-hop artist who helped originate gangsta rap.

ICE Cube comes in a full size (40 foot) or half size (20 foot) container. The big one can hold 28 racks of servers totalling 2,800 quad-core Intel Xeons, that's 11,200 cores, or 4.2 petabytes of storage. This is four times more server racks or almost three times more disk storage than Sun's pioneering Project Blackbox containerized data center can hold. That was introduced in October, 2006.

The first Concento, launched in March, 2007, could hold up to 9,600 computing cores or a 3.5PB storage array. A petabyte by the way is one billion megabytes. ICE Cube is 20 percent more capable than that. Rackable says it can reduce the cooling cost of a bricks and mortar data center with similar processing power by up to 80 percent. Sun had said it could reduce such costs by 20 percent.

The idea behind these containerized behemoths is that existing maxed-out data centers could gain a new lease of life through having a containerized extension of their computing infrastructure parked outside the building, or perhaps on the roof. The containers have their own external chiller and a powerful custom-designed cooling system inside with the racks located either side of a central access corridor.

Another projected use is that these canned data centers could be set up in areas where electricity is cheap and networked to offices in locations where it is dear. That applies much more to the U.S. and Canada than it does to the U.K. A third scenario is recovery work after a natural or man-made disaster.

Rackable has a special cooling design in which individual servers are fan-less. There are fans between the racks and the container as a whole is cooled by a wind tunnel-like blast of air. Storage and servers, powered by direct current, can be mixed and matched in the same container. There is a downloadable data sheet providing more detail.

Rackable says it can deliver one built to order 90 days after receiving an order. After plugging in power feeds, a water pipe and network connections the data center is immediately ready for work, according to Rackable. The container is equipped for GPS tracking and has substantial alarm and security protection features.

The Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) is was Sun's first Blackbox customer and used its 20 foot container to augment an existing data center. No other Blackbox customers have been named but Sun says its interest pipeline is strong. It will officially launch the Blackbox product on November 20th this year.

Rackable says it has a well-known U.S. ISP as a Concento customer and has Raytheon as a reseller.

Sun has quietly uprated Blackbox since its introduction as a demonstrator concept. A typical configuration can provide 146 teraflops of CPU power (trillions of calculations per second), store 2PB of data and have 7TB -- yes, seven terabytes -- of main memory for the processors. It's now about 40 percent more power-efficient than a traditional data center according to Sun. The starting price is US$750,00 million dollars. Rackable did not detail its prices.

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Chris Mellor

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