Green IT: The Solar-Powered Server Farm

Phil Nail and his wife, Sherry, have learned that green technology and data centers can go together. The couple started their Web-hosting company, Affordable Internet Services Online (AISO), nine years ago and switched to solar power in 2001. The company, located in Romoland, Calif., provides Internet service to customers that include a Laguna Beach, Calif., film production company and Veggiedate.org, a dating service for vegetarians. The company data center’s 200 servers are powered by 120 photovoltaic panels that generate electricity on platforms mounted beside the data center.

According to Nail, the panels supply power to run the entire data center, including the offices and air conditioners. In case of a power failure, AISO can get power from its emergency generator (which runs on natural gas) or, as a last resort, the utility grid. The hosting company also uses servers with energy-efficient Advance Micro Devices Opteron processors from Open Source Storage. “We built our company to be environmentally friendly because we thought it was the right thing to do,” says Nail.

Nail acknowledges that a solar-powered data center isn’t for everyone because startup costs can be expensive; in 2001, it cost him $100,000 to install 120 solar panels for his 2,000-square-foot data center. He says his investment has paid off in low energy costs, and his eco-friendly marketing message has helped to attract some customers. But he acknowledges that the cost of switching to solar power would be steep for a large data center with thousands of servers.

Now Nail is taking green power to another level. Specifically, the data center’s roof, where he intends to put five inches of dirt and cover it with drought-tolerant plants. “That’s supposed to reduce the amount of cooling needed by 60 percent,” he says.

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