Sun has come up with every techie's dream - an enormous box crammed with multiple servers and storage hardware that can be literally driven up to a company, plugged in and turned on.

Project Blackbox is available in either a 20-foot or 40-foot long shipping container, and can be configured to hold up to 250 Sun Fire servers or up to 2PB worth of storage devices or 7TB worth of memory. The equipment runs on Sun's Solaris 10 operating system and uses water cooling to dissipate heat from the processors.

This kind of rapid deployment of extra computing power will address many of the needs of the modern enterprise data center concerned with performance but also energy and space efficiency, said Anil Gadre, chief marketing officer for Sun. "Basically, it rolls up to you, you hook up the power, you hook up your network and you hook up the chiller water lines and you’re ready to go," Gadre said. "It's like pre-fab housing."

Sun went with water cooling rather than air-cooling technology because the equipment would be tightly compacted into the shipping container and there would not be enough space in and around the hardware for air to circulate, Gadre said. "Air is incredibly inefficient at cooling, which is why data centers need as much headroom and space around them that they do," he said.

By arranging the hardware inside the shipping container, the mobile data centre offers comparable computing power at one-fifth the cost per square foot of a traditional data centre. Sun is to display a working prototype of Project Blackbox at its offices in Menlo Park, California and plans to have the product commercially available by mid-2007.

It sees its target markets as rapidly-growing Web 2.0 companies that need to quickly add servers to keep their sites up, as well as high-performance computing centers, military deployments or other instances in which an enterprise needs to quickly ramp up computing capacity, Gadre said.

Some of Sun's competitors are taking other approaches to the problem of unwieldy data centre operations. IBM rolled out its Scalable Modular Data Center for Small Businesses this month, which enables businesses to build a data centre quickly using modular components. It also launched a Thermal Analysis for High-Performance Computing service that determines what heating and cooling issues a data centre may face and how to head off problems.

IBM cited Gartner research that said that by 2009, 70 percent of data centre facilities will fail to meet operational and capacity requirements without some level of renovation, expansion or relocation.

Research firm IDC, meanwhile, reports that by 2007 spending on power and cooling data centres will exceed that of the computer hardware itself.

While not providing specific pricing information, Sun claims its Project Blackbox system will be available at one one-hundredth of the initial cost of traditional data centres with the same computing power, and 20 percent more power efficiency.