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SLAC's Newest Computing Center Arrives... by Truck

SLAC's newest computing center—a standard 8-foot wide, 20-foot long shipping container—arrived on site Saturday morning. A crane lifted the 23,340-pound container off a flat-bed truck and gingerly placed it on a concrete pad behind the Computing Building.

"This is a very efficient way to substantially increase our computing power without putting up a new building. We're excited to try out this novel solution," said Randy Melen, High Performance Storage and Computing team leader of Scientific Computing and Computing Services (SCCS).

SLAC is the first customer to test Sun Microsystems' largely self-contained data center, called the Blackbox Project. SLAC's box, painted white to stay cooler, contains about a million dollars of computing equipment. The corrugated metal box is tightly sealed insulated, and properly humidified. There is even an environmental monitoring and fire suppression system inside. The doors at each end of the shipping container open onto a center aisle, with four racks of computing equipment on each side that slide out for maintenance. There are 252 Sun servers, each using two AMD dual-core Opteron CPUs, a Cisco 6509 switch and Digi Etherlite systems for console management.

After the unit was manufactured in Colorado, Sun installed and configured all hardware and software in Portland, Oregon, and will be responsible for maintenance during the trial period this summer.

"Normally we configure new computers, but this time we asked Sun to set up everything," Melen said. "The computers are not just physically wired, they have their operating systems, host names, IP addresses and so on."

Now all that remains is for SCCS to plug the box into the nearby electrical substation, hook up 10-gigabit networking fibers from the Computer Building, and connect a chiller that will pump water into the box's internal cooling system. The custom chiller is slated to be operational on site next month. When the new unit is up and running, it will increase the lab's scientific computing capacity by one third.

Heather Rock Woods, SLAC Today, July 16, 2007

Above image: SLAC's newest data center arrived early Saturday morning.