Data Center in a Box - the Future that Never Was?

Canonical Orange Box

Posted on Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Author: CDS

Back in 2007, Sun Microsystems began touting “Project Blackbox”, the first “portable” data center that would be mass-produced. Sun’s vision was for a 20-foot shipping container filled with up to 250 servers, packing seven terabytes of memory and two petabytes of disk storage space. Needing nothing more than an Internet connection, a power link and a water supply, Project Blackbox was good to go as soon as it arrived on site. The container could be deployed in one-tenth of the time, and one one-hundredth of the cost of a similarly specified on-site data center.

Not as popular as hoped

With those kind of headline benefits, the data center in a box concept should have been a winner. But just four years later, Gartner reported that early interest had waned and the product would never be as popular as hoped. Problems with physical security, local building permit requirements and questions about vendor lock-in were all identified as factors that effectively killed the market before it could reach maturity.

A new lease of life for the data center in a box

However Canonical, creator of the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, hopes to revive the data center in a box concept. The Orange Box is a genuinely portable OpenStack unit containing ten micro-servers and costs just $12,750.

Unlike Project Blackbox, the Orange Box is not intended to be a direct replacement for the corporate data center, but instead a simple-to-deploy test bed for Cloud computing, or for SMEs needing a powerful, cost-effective data center that does not need the usual cooling and power provisions.

So will the Orange Box change the enterprise data center scene? Not in the near future. But the continued miniaturization of server and storage hardware could be applied to building more effective, efficient and compact enterprise-class data centers in the future.