British ISP powered by the sun

Ecological hosters using solar power to run data centre

UK-based Internet service provider Ecological Hosting is powering its data centre with sunshine.

All Ecological Hosting's servers and offices operate on renewable energy, using grid-supplied wind-generated power. It had a UK hosting centre until August, 2005, when it transferred it to a solar-powered data centre in the US state of California.

A 120-solar panel array is capable of generating up to sixty kilowatt-hours of electricity each day. This provides all power for the data centre offices, air conditioners and all computer equipment, including the network and servers.

The data centre has multiple high speed Internet links, plus full UPS (uninterruptible power supply) battery and natural gas generator backup. DC power from the solar panel feed is stored in battery banks. A large APC UPS system also provides power backup and conditions the power supply protecting equipment from voltage fluctuations and spikes.

In an emergency, power is also available from a natural gas standby generator, tested weekly, and regular grid supply, but in practice these options have never been used.

IT infrastructure in the data centre is divided into server and network segments.

Network

There is a fully redundant Cisco powered network with multi-homed connectivity to the Internet backbone, with no single point of failure, multiple redundant Cisco 7200 series routers, Cisco PIX firewalls and Cisco switches.

The network infrastructure is also fully redundant with automated failover and full BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) routing across three Internet service links: two wired and one very high speed wireless. Data centre uptime guarantee to Athenaeum, part of Ecological Hosting, is about 99.9 per cent.

Servers

Inside the data centre is VMware virtual server technology based on multiprocessor IBM xSeries servers and multi-terabyte RAID-protected Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) drive arrays from NetApp.

Ecological Hosting claims that, compared to having a larger numbers of individual physical servers, this design provides massive savings in data centre power consumption as well as noise and other environmental factors.

VMware VMotion is used to bring redundancy to the server setup. If a physical server is struggling or fails, then VMware virtual servers hosted by that physical server are automatically switch to a different physical host. This is made possible by virtue of the servers being virtual and having all the server information stored away from the physical host in the SAN storage arrays.

Multiple snapshots are taken of each virtual server stored on the SAN throughout the day. This enables quick server restoration if needed. These snapshots are created by the NetApp SAN hardware and are completely independent of the servers.

When Ecological Hosting's data centre began operating from California, it was the first solar-powered hosting company in the UK. In August 2007 it was joined by Solarhost. Green Web Hosting has also joined the ranks of UK solar-powered hosting suppliers.

Jamie Simpson, Ecological Hosting's director, states: "We have no plans for world domination, we just want to live happily and tread lightly on this planet we call home."

Ecological Hosting service prices start at US$49 per annum.

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