Thursday, October 19, 2006


Sun's Jonathan Schwartz is proving to be just as big a publicity machine as his predecessor.

His latest ruse is "Project Blackbox" - a datacenter in a container. (Containerisation's all the rage... I blogged about the double-decker container boats that roam the Thames only yesterday)

In essense, it's a data centre in a box: it contains the CPUs, memory, disks, cooling, etc, etc. You drop it somewhere, connect it to a network, plug it in, plumb it into a water system and off you go.

I understand the idea was triggered, in part, by a customer of Sun telling them it had taken the best part of three years to build out a data centre (compared to You Tube who had been founded, gone live, ramped up to millions of users and been acquired in less time).

However, I can't help thinking that we're comparing apples with oranges here.

Compared to working with an existing estate of software and systems is completely different to building an entirely new infrastructure: in the latter case, you get to write your apps from scratch and don't have to worry about legacy applications or integration. In short, you don't have to worry about the things that are truly difficult.

In reality, installing the hardware is never the hard part. It's all the other "tiny" things you have to do before you can consider your deployment complete: getting the operating system configured and patched to the level that the software you're using requires takes time. Installing the middleware adds a bit of extra time (can you think of an enterprise-scale application that doesn't require some sort of middleware services?) Then you have to configure the middleware... make sure any clustering is set-up, database connectivity sorted, failover tested. Oh... you might want to install some databases (I hope the data you need isn't kept in some other data centre, owned by some other application) 

And that's before you've even written your application or installed it.

In short, what Sun are doing is a nice idea and it almost certainly has value but let's be clear that there are lots of reasons why data centres take a long time to build out and getting a bunch of boxes installed is only one of them.

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