UK ISP's sunshine-powered datacentre

UK Internet hosting company Ecological Hosting powers its datacentre with sunshine. It was the UK's only solar-powered ISP for some time.


UK Internet hosting company Ecological Hosting powers its datacentre with sunshine. It was the UK's only solar-powered ISP for some time.

The Athenaeum company behind it began operating in 2005. All of Ecological Hosting's servers and offices operate on renewable energy. The West Yorkshire office uses grid-supplied wind-generated power. It had a UK-based hosting centre until August 2005, when it transferred it to America. Now this infrastructure is based in a solar-powered California datacentre operated by a family-run business there.

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

The datacentre has multiple very high speed Internet links, plus full UPS (uninterruptible power supply) battery and natural gas generator backup. DC (direct current) 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.

The datacentre IT infrastructure is divided into server and network segments.

On the network side, there is a fully redundant Cisco powered network with multi-homed connectivity to the Internet backbone and no single point of failure, plus 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). Datacentre uptime guarantee to Athenaeum (Ecological Hosting) is 99.9+%.

In terms of servers, inside the datacentre is VMware virtual server technology based on multi-processor IBM xSeries servers and multi-terabyte RAID-protected Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) drive arrays from NetApp.

Ecological Hosting claims that, compared with having a larger numbers of individual physical servers, this design provides massive savings in datacentre 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 the failing/failed physical server are automatically switched 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 server restoration to an earlier time almost instantaneously if needed. These snapshots are created by the NetApp SAN hardware and are completely independent of the servers.

When Ecological Hosting's datacentre 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 £23.50 per annum.

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