Computing in a (really big) box

A skip
Sun’s big black shipping container is the most exciting thing to happen in computer hardware since they stopped shipping them with casters..

I remember sitting around rapping with my friends (my less fashionable friends, obviously) ten years ago about how, one day, you’d be able to rent computing power like you rent a skip or a generator or a portakabin or some other very basic unit of business capacity. I seem to remember wondering if it might come on a flatbed truck in a sort of anonymous-looking box and that you might just have to plug the thing in, attach it to the Internet and forget about it.

We speculated that the thing would probably ‘virtualise’ its capacity so that it appeared on your network as a single (huge) block of CPU and storage, no matter what was actually in the box.

Of course it didn’t occur to us that this thing might help with the kind of capacity crunch that hits a Web 2.0 business when its trendy site goes viral or gets onto the Yahoo home page. Nor did we really worry for a minute about the disastrous environmental impact of the vast datacentres serving YouTube and Google and MySpace (it didn’t occur to me that it might need its own water supply, either, I suppose).

What I like about The Black Box Project is that it’s evidence of Sun‘s continued creativity and defiance of the apocalyptic commoditisation of their core business. Sun ought to have gone bust three or four years ago: fast, flexible CPU is now cheap as chips, the UNIX workstation is no more. Not one of Sun‘s unassailable differentiators turned out to be defensible. Sun is proof that brains can reverse the ugly trend towards zero in the hardware business. Well done to Sun. I’m going to be looking out for Black Boxes round the back of all the big businesses I visit.

Thanks to Eastern Waste Disposal for the picture of a skip.

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