Web-hosting startup fully embraces solar

A whole datacentre is powered by the sun

While large companies such as Microsoft and Google have gingerly plugged into the sun’s energy, a newly announced web hosting company, called Greenest Host, is fully basking in it.

Following the lead of long-standing green web host AISO.net, Greenest Host is 100% solar-powered. Based in San Diego, California, the company’s 2,000-square-foot datacentre is located in the inland desert of Southern California, where its solar panels soak up the sun.

The appeal of being a 100% solar-powered company was strong for the company’s CEO Mike Corrales. “Personally, my core values tend to skew toward green application and green causes,” he says. “We wanted to make it really easy for end consumers and small businesses to be able to build their own sites in a way that coincided with their own personal value system.”

While the upfront costs of solar panels can be considerable, Corrales says they pay for themselves in the long run. “Over time, energy prices continue to rise. Over the past 40 years, they’ve risen 3% every year. [With solar panels], we, as a datacentre operator, are locked into the energy costs we have today until the panels no longer work. If nothing else, we’re protecting ourselves from a cost-of-energy perspective.”

By day, Greenest Host’s 600 servers feed directly off the panels. By night, they get their power from batteries that store the excess solar energy. But the company has a backup plan. “We do have backup generator that runs on propane, just in case there is a shortage or, for some reason, we went 30 days in a row without sun,” says Corrales.

Inside the datacentre, the company is running new AMD Opteron-powered servers, “which use 60% less energy and generate 50% less heat” than the previous generation, according to the company.

“We worked closely with AMD to make sure that we have the best possible solution for our green datacentre. Because of their willingness to literally work hand-in-hand through the entire design and development process of the datacentre infrastructure, we felt that AMD was and still is the only way to go,” says Corrales.

And, of course, the company employs virtualisation (from VMWare, specifically) “to reduce cooling and electrical requirements with a 30:1 ratio of virtual servers to physical servers.”

“We chose to virtualise them because we can handle the equivalent of thousands of servers in our current environment,” says Corrales.

For cooling, the company uses two Energy Star-compliant systems from Freus. The cooling systems monitor outside air temperature, according to the company and, when it reaches 50 degrees or below, “they suck the outside air in, filter it, and direct it into the datacentre, thus saving electricity when it’s cool outside.”

Moreover, the company employs redundant environmental monitors from APC. These act as smoke alarms, but they also monitor humidity and cooling levels. “In case of a cooling issue, our support staff is notified immediately. This ensures all servers are maintained in a cool environment, which will prolong the life of the servers,” according to the company.

The datacentre itself is built from steel and multiple layers of environmentally friendly insulation, the company says. The design keeps the cool air in and the hot air out, thus reducing the amount of energy necessary to run the facility.

Greenest Host is also in the process of adding a green roof, which it says will reduce cooling and heating requirements by up to 50%. (A green roof, essentially, is a layer of soil and vegetation atop a building.)

Given the green wave that’s swept the business world, Corrales anticipates organisations will be lured by the eco-friendly nature of the service. “We can have an ethically superior choice available for people, but they don’t have to sacrifice higher performance,” he says. “Our pricing is pretty in line with all the major standard web-hosting options out there.”

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