Green server for Permaculture Magazine

Geo / hydro data centre in Iceland

I was given the task of helping Permaculture Magazine find a new green Internet Service Provider (ISP) to relocate their web services. ISPs are based in data centres which are buildings rammed with servers running 24/7. A data centre can be described as a giant socket, where the internet plugs into the electricity grid, and uses power to run the servers, and importantly to keep them cool.

As environmentalists we are aware of the high CO2 emissions through aviation, and take actions to reduce our impact in this area. What we don't realise however, is that emissions from telecommunications is already on a par with those from aviation, and set to double by 2020! 1

With this in mind, I set out to find the ideal green ISP for our needs, and like any serious online research, it was not long before a spread sheet emerged, mapping out my personal criteria for the ideal green solution. These were:

1. An energy efficient Virtual Private Server (VPS)
2. Competitive price
3. Good technical specs
4. Easily upgradable
5. European data centre
6. Carbon neutral , or better still renewable energy
7. Not powered by one of the 'Big 6' electricity companies

A VPS is a machine that has been carved up programmatically to run several virtual servers on one box. Environmentally it has the edge on a 'dedicated' server, in that it uses clever strategies to optimise the use of resources, including processors, memory, and storage devices, thus requiring less power to run, and keep cool. A VPS is also more flexible than a dedicated server, and can be upgraded, or downgraded at a whim. The downside to VPS' is that they do not generally come with very high specs, and this became a major stumbling block in the hunt for the ideal solution for hosting Permaculture Mag's busy, memory hungry websites.

I narrowed my search down to three green ISPs, and at this stage it was looking a bit like a European Cup Final, with Hetzner from Germany as the clear favourites, Dutch based Tilaa as a strong contester and still in there with a chance .. UK based Green Webhost. However the more I looked at the three favourites, the clearer it became that I wasn't going to find the ideal solution to my seven criteria, and that compromises would have to be made.

Green Webhost are a small outfit based in Northern England, and use some of their profits to support permaculture projects such as Hebden Bridge based Treesponsibility .. which we liked a lot. They were trying to broker a deal with us, for a dedicated server, based in Iceland in a data centre powered, excitingly, by Hydro and Geothermal electricity. Iceland has an abundance of these two renewable energy resources, and is trying to use this as a lever to break out as a world leader in the data centre market. There was something very appealing about directing permaculture ££s to our Northern European neighbours, to assist them in the quest, but unfortunately we were unable to do this, because their prices were very prohibitive.
Tilaa in Amsterdam pride themselves on their green credentials, and were offering an energy efficient VPS solution with the unusual combination of being competitively priced, whilst offering the technical specs, to be upgradable should PM ever need a more powerful server in the future. However, further research revealed that Tilaa's data centre used renewable energy provided by Eon, one of the 'Big Six' UK energy providers, and an investor in nuclear power in France, which was a major no no.

I was initially put off by the German ISP called Hetzner, because I was keen to find a VPS, and whilst their dedicated servers were exceedingly cheap, and powered by 100% Hydro, the VPS solutions on offer did not provide enough technical specs for PM's needs. With the rejection of Tilaa and Green Webhost however, we ended up purchasing one of Hetzner's dedicated servers, with an abundance of RAM, and plenty of processing power, and storage capacity for PM and its sister sites to expand in the future.

Being German engineering and all that, we are filled with confidence in the reliability of Hetzner's service, and are happy that we have relocated to a green ISP, that is 100% renewable, and is cheaper, and faster than the PM's previous host.

Summary of Green ISP criteria for three favourites
Criteria Hetzner Dedicated server Tilaa VPS Green Webhost / Icelandic data centre
Energy efficient VPS No, dedicated Yes No, dedicated
Competitive price Yes Yes No
Good technical specs Yes Yes Yes
Easily upgradable No Yes No
European data centre Yes Yes Yes
Carbon neutral Yes Yes Yes
Renewable energy Yes Yes Yes
Not one of the Big Six Yes No, Eon Yes

(This article has also been published here on the Permaculture Magazine website.)