Server farm goes solar

A data storage company generates all its own power using solar panels.

By Todd Woody, Business 2.0 Magazine

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Massive data centers are vital to the economy. They are also notorious power hogs. If their numbers keep growing at the expected rate, the United States alone will need nearly a dozen new power plants by 2011 just to keep the data flowing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's why a small server-farm company called (for "affordable Internet services online") has gone completely off the grid. Located 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles in the desert hamlet of Romoland, has flanked its 2,000-square-foot building with two banks of ground-mounted solar panels, which generate 12 kilowatts of electricity. Batteries store the juice for nighttime operation.

Bright idea: Nail runs his Web hosting service on 12 kilowatts of carbon-free electricity.

To slash energy consumption, switched from 120 individual servers to four IBM blades running virtualization software that lets one computer do the work of multiple machines. The cooling system cranks up for only about 10 minutes an hour, and when the outside temperature drops to 60 degrees, air is sucked into the building to cool the servers. Solar tubes built into the roof illuminate the facility's interior.

The service is attracting plenty of eco-conscious clients. Al Gore's Live Earth concerts were webcast on's servers in July. And San Diego startup GreenestHost is reselling's services to mom-and-pop website operators who want to go carbon-neutral. "Small data centers could easily start to adapt and make changes like this," says co-founder Phil Nail, who claims the project cost about $100,000.

His monthly electric bills, once as high as $3,000, have dropped to zero. Larger data centers can't match that. But Sun Microsystems (Charts, Fortune 500) did recently slash power consumption 61 percent by consolidating its Silicon Valley servers into a single state-of-the-art facility. And IBM (Charts, Fortune 500) BladeCenter VP Alex Yost sees growing demand for energy-efficient servers like the ones uses. "It's an enormous economic opportunity," he says.  Top of page

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