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Black Box: Acuity Keeps Troops Connected

O'Ryan Johnson

Black Box Corp. is boldly promising the U.S. military, the energy industry, and disaster agencies, that its new product -- called the Acuity Micro Data Center -- can replace truckloads of mobile communications equipment, and days of setup with a case that can fit into carry-on luggage, and can be running in minutes.

’What we're actually doing is giving them the ability, and the flexibility to pick up a 30-pound case, and run to a disaster area and have communications built up within minutes and hours as opposed to days and weeks,’ Jeff Murray, vice president of government solutions for Black Box, told CRN. ’The applications for this are pretty broad in regards to first responders, state and local, energy services. Any place where there is a need to have data center connectivity in an environment where there is disrupted, intermittent and limited communications availability.’

One Acuity unit consists of 10 compute nodes that can connect up to 50 troops or first responders, providing phone and data service to them within two hours of being deployed, Black Box said. The unit automatically connects to the host office through a secure channel, but if that connection is lost, Acuity will keep running phones and communications in the forward area, Black Box said.

’If you’re on a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean and you have a satellite communication and that fades and goes into something else, how do I reconnect that connectivity?’ Murray asked. ’The Acuity device will do that autonomously and automatically. It constantly searches for additional band width, while it still operates communications locally for locally deployed forces.’

Murray said there has been interest in the product from NATO as well as the Joint Warfighter Initiative.

The product announcement is some positive news for the Lawrence, Pa.-based telecom specialist, No. 40 on the 2017 CRN Solution Provider 500, that has otherwise been beset by financial struggles, and leadership changes. The company's stock was up 19 percent Wednesday following Tuesday’s announcement to $2.28.

But the applications for Acuity – which Black Box said can operate in temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees and as high as 135 degrees -- stretch beyond the battlefield, he said.

’It was created to be that first-response solution, so we look at a construction industry where you’re building a pipeline,’ Murray said. ’You don’t have data center or connectivity except through somebody’s wireless phone. This will allow those local operators to operate with information in a shared environment, then autonomously sync up to a data center when it needs to phone home, for lack of a better term.’

Murray said Black Box will develop a channel program for Acuity following a direct sales with federal clients.

’We’re going direct initially,’ he said. ’We do anticipate we're going to have a limited number of channels that we deal with going forward, probably no more than a dozen different channel partners. Because its so new, a first of its kind solution, we want to control that first six to 12 month environment.’

He said Black Box will be pushing Acuity towards ’vertically driven, specific partners.’ Acuity will give them a powerful, rugged, tactical, product that doesn’t exist on the market.

’They can meet a need that isn’t met through a single solution today, in Acuity,’ he said. ’It will give them margin benefits as well as giving them right to use licensing from a channel stand point as well as ongoing tier one and tier two support.’

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