Why Sun

One of the earliest casualties of an IBM Corp. takeover of Sun Microsystems Inc. would be Sun’s Project Blackbox, industry analysts say.

The company’s containerized data centres, branded the Sun Modular Datacenter upon its official launch last year, already compete with Rackable Systems Inc.’s ICE Cube modular data center, HP Inc.’s POD, and IBM’s own offering. Some of these companies have even started to partner up in this space, with Rackable signing an agreement last summer to resell IBM’s BladeCenter servers in the ICE Cube.

But even with this crowded market cutting into its sales, Sun’s biggest obstacle has been a lack of interest from enterprises.

“I don’t know a lot of enterprise customers who are going after this kind of project today,” said Galen Schreck, a principal analyst who covers IT infrastructure and data centre management for Forrester Research Inc. “The (Blackbox) is extremely cool, but it’s kind of like when you go to a car show and look at a concept car.”

“Sure, it’s a great demonstration of innovation and capability, but you end up buying the Camry.”

Schreck said that because of the similarity to IBM’s offering, it’s likely the Blackbox project would be a strong candidate for consolidation. While each one offers extraordinary density with a slightly different flavour, they’re just variations on the same theme, he added.

Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor for Nashua, Nh.-based research firm Illuminata, Inc., agreed with Schreck, saying that Blackbox will likely be one of many Sun products folded into existing IBM products or axed altogether.

“It’s fair to say that they haven’t sold a lot of them, but I’m not sure anybody has sold a lot of containerized data centres in the grand scheme of things,” he added. “This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, but right now, it’s just a niche offering.”

Sun first unveiled the Project Blackbox back in 2006 and is widely considered one of the first companies to champion the concept. But Sun’s reputation of having big ideas and not being able to fully execute and cash in on them has limited the project’s success, Haff said.

“It’s almost like Sun becomes bored with some of these ideas when they don’t play out immediately,” Haff said. “Sun Grid is another example of this.”

While Sun was on the right track, it turned out that a virtual infrastructure like Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute was the way of the future for on-demand computing power, he added.

Because HP has been more effective at selling large quantities of x86 servers, Haff argued, it will be the company that’s going to have a leg up in the containerized data centre market.

“It’s really just another delivery mechanism for these servers,” he added.

As for why adoption rates appear to be slow across the board, Schreck said that many enterprises haven’t quite figured out whether it’s worthwhile to invest in them and what kind of service would be standard. He added that he’s received many calls from confused customers inquiring about portable data centre technology.

“For instance, if you buy one, are you expected to put in the concrete,” Schreck asked. “Does IBM put the concrete in for you? Do they hire a contractor to do this to their specifications? What’s the service policy for this thing? How fast will they replace parts?”

And outside of service providers and rapidly growing companies — which might be few and far between because of the recession — the containerized data centre model does not fit into current IT philosophy.

“As for the fast-growing companies, a lot of them are actually in more traditional co-location facilities or have constructed their own small data centres,” Schreck said. “

“Last I checked, DHL does not currently accept cargo containers full of servers.”

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