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SLAC Prepares for First Blackbox to Expand Computing Power

Soon, a truck from Portland, Oregon will deliver a shipping container filled with 252 computing systems to boost SLAC's scientific computing capacity by a third. Instead of unpacking it, Scientific Computing and Computing Services (SCCS) will move the entire 20-foot-long, 24,000-pound shipping container to a new concrete pad behind Building 50 and get ready to churn out results.

SLAC is beta testing the Blackbox, a mostly self-contained data center made by Sun Microsystems to quickly deliver computing power. Sun plans to announce the product this summer. In the meantime, SLAC is the first customer to get one.

Building 50, the computing building, is close to maxing out its cooling system and its ability to distribute power within the building. But the demand for computing time is increasing rapidly.

"We needed to expand quickly this fiscal year, but solving the cooling and power challenges for the building takes longer. We worked with Sun to answer the question, 'how do you extend your data center without too much pain?'" said Randy Melen, leader of SCCS's High Performance Storage and Computing team.

The Blackbox will plug into the electrical substation behind Building 50 and SCCS will connect 10-gigabit networking fibers to the box. When the chiller system arrives and is operational later in August, it will sit on a second concrete pad and circulate chilled water to the Blackbox's internal cooling system. Unlike the above photo, SLAC's Blackbox is actually white to improve energy efficiency.

The concrete pads are being built now, requiring traffic and parking barricades near the building. When the Blackbox is delivered, rigging safety will require further closures for part of a day.

Click here to watch progress on the pads and installation.
Click here to watch a Sun video about the Blackbox on YouTube.

—Heather Rock Woods, SLAC Today, June 20, 2007

Above image: Dave Douglas, Vice President of Advanced Technology at Sun Microsystems, outside of a Sun Blackbox. (Image courtesy of Sun.)