UK Firm Plans Solar Data Center

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solarpanels-smallA UK firm is building a new data center that will use a combination of solar power and advanced server energy management, an approach that could help smaller data centers consider solar as a power source. WorldBackups.net is building a 2,600 square foot facility at a former BT telecom exchange in North Wiltshire, which it plans to bring online in the second quarter of 2010.

Data center operators are eager to use renewable energy to meet corporate social responsibility pledges, but solar and wind power have been lightly adopted thus far. Solar is a particular challenge due to cost and capacity issues, which limit the scope of any data center using photovoltaic solar power as its primary source of electricity. 

WorldBackups.net plans to use a solar power array to power the data center, while reducing its power requirements by switching off servers when they’re not busy. The company says it is developing an advanced application to manage server resources that can power servers off and on as needed, firing up necessary network space within one minute.

The power management is the key step in making renewable energy a viable option, according to Roland Scott, managing director of WorldBackups. “We can only use solar because we will have the ability to shut down a lot of our infrastructure when it’s not needed,” said Scott. “We will have to buy power during the night, and that will come from companies that generate their power from renewable sources – solar and wind.”

WorldBackups expects that it will be able to generate more power than it needs during daylight hours, and thenl sell excess capacity to a local utility that uses only renewable energy. The company will then “buy back” power during the night.

Capacity an Issue for Solar Data Centers
Solar power hasn’t been widely used in data centers because of the large amounts of energy required to power the servers and cooling equipment in modern mission-critical facilities. It requires a very large installation of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to produce even a fraction of the energy required by most data centers.
        
The only data center currently powered entirely by PV solar power is AISO (Affordable Internet Services Online), which operates a 1,500 square foot facility in Romoland, California. AISO powers its data center with 120 solar panels that generate DC power, which is then run through an inverter and stored in batteries.

The site data center planned by WorldBackups.net is modest compared to many enteprise facilities, but still about 70 percent larger than the AISO site. 

Debate About Turning Servers Off
Powering servers off and on as needed can save power, but has been met with resistance due to concerns that the additional power cycling will shorten the life of the hardware. The impact of power cycling on computers and servers has long been a subject of discussion and debate in the IT world. But Scott says WorldBackups expects to make it work.

“Pioneering technology isn’t solely the preserve of Silicon Valley or hi-tech hotspots in the UK,” Scott said in the company’s press announcement. “Right here in Wiltshire, we’re building a completely self-sufficient data centre and proving that green investment can be good business. Our ethos is two-fold; a duty to make use of renewable and clean energy when we can, and also to be ready for the arrival of future environmental and compliance laws.”

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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