Shipping Container Geekery

Enterprise Computing in a Shipping Container

The idea of setting up a computing center in a shipping container isn’t new. Sun has Project Blackbox, “a prototype of the world’s first virtualized datacenter–built into a shipping container and optimized to deliver extreme energy, space, and performance efficiencies”. The idea is create a computing center that you could move anywhere in the world with relative ease:

A “Project Blackbox” container with its doors open, revealing the computing center inside.

If you’ve ever watch ships loading and unloading, you’ll know that nobody handles cargo containers gingerly. A shipping container full of computer equipment would have to be able to withstand a fair bit of abuse, and it looks as though the Blackbox container can take it — here’s a video of one in a simulated earthquake of a 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale:

Sun’s not the only company working the the concept. Google have patented a similar idea. One major difference is that while Sun’s container-based datacenter would be a self-contained computing cluster, Google would treat their containers as very large rackmounts, where a container could operate on its own or as part of a cluster of other computing containers. Robert Cringely has some interesting speculation on the way Google might use these datacenters.

1337 H4X0RZ in a Shipping Container

Invisigoth from the “X-Files” episode “Kill Switch” — a skinny pale blonde woman, dressed in black, wearing way too much makeup.
“Invisigoth” from the X-Files episode Kill Switch

The idea of setting up a non-enterprise computing center in a shipping container isn’t new, either. Kill Switch, one of the X-Files episodes written by William Gibson, featured a hacker who went by the handle “Invisigoth” who lived and did her work in a shipping container.

The episode also featured a down-market version of a computing cluster in a shipping container: an old trailer, packed with computers, sitting in a remote field and connected to the internet through a T1 line, which was an even bigger deal back in 1998.

A Cafe in a Shipping Container

Where there are computer programmers, there must also be caffeine. Consider the fact that the nerd store ThinkGeek has a whole section devoted to the substance. One of my favorite sayings was adapted from a line in mathematician Paul Erdos’ biography, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: “A programmer is a machine for converting caffeine into software.”

It logically follows that if there are computing centers in shipping containers, there should also be some kind of caffeine dispensers in shipping containers as well. Here come artist Adam Kalkin and fancy-pants coffee vendor Illy to the rescue:

Shipping container that converts into an Illy Cafe.

Here’s an excerpt from Illy’s news release:

For the 52nd International Art Exhibition in Venice illycaffè is partnering with the Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia for the fourth time.

At the Biennale illy will provide art-lovers and coffee connoisseurs a beautiful space to relax, reflect and enjoy a perfect cup of espresso. Visitors to illymind, the rest and refreshment area founded by illy in 2003, will be introduced to the Push Button House which opens like a flower and transforms from a compact container into a fully furnished and functional space with the push of a button. View video.

After the preview at Art Basel Miami Beach, the Push Button House, a work designed by American artist-architect Adam Kalkin and redesigned for the presence of illycaffè at the 52nd International Art Exhibition, arrives for the first time in Europe.

Kalkin is known for designing comfortable spaces and placing them in unusual contexts. Visitors to the Push Button House will experience the artist’s ability to transform industrial materials into a domestic masterpiece, beautifully contrasting between the indoor and outdoor worlds, while enjoying complimentary illy espresso for a complete authentic Italian experience. The entire work was created from recyclable materials.

If I had the money, I’d take one of these things wherever I went.

5 replies on “Shipping Container Geekery”

This is very cool. I have noticed that the idea of using shipping containers for innovative alternative solutions is growing. This year at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche there was an exhibit that encorporated a portable office, floating under teathered helium-filled balloons, and attached to the side of office buildings. With a simple connection of electricity, net-connectivity, and plumbing, you could add an entire extra room to your office building.

The exhibit is mentioned on this official Nuit Blanche page:

However, it is not appropriately described here. If I can find the pamphlet they were handing out that night, I will scan and post. It included diagrams and detailed box contents.


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