Episode 108: Green Web Hosting with Solar VPS

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Sean Daily, GreenLivingIdeas' Editor-in-Chief, talks with Ross Brouse, CEO of SolarVTG, about solar-powered web server hosting for personal and professional applications.

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Sean Daily:   Hi and welcome to Green Talk, a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com. Green Talk helps listeners in their efforts to lead more eco-friendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies, products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life. Hey everybody, welcome to Green Talk. This is Sean Daily, your host. And it’s good to be back. We were away for a little break there and it’s good to be back at it.  I’m very happy to be talking today on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart, which is web-hosting. And to talk with me about web-hosting is Ross Brouse. He is the CEO of Solar Virtualization Technologies Group which also includes Solar VPS, a very well regarded VPS. Ross and I will both explain what that means into the program here. They are a VPS provider and Solar VPS is very well regarded in terms of their service. And it’s the company actually that greenlivingideas chose as their web host, after much searching and a few false starts and so Ross is coming on today to talk with me today about greening your web server hosting for businesses and also for individuals. So Ross, first of all welcome to the program.

Ross Brouse:  Thank you for having me.

Sean Daily:   It’s my pleasure. You and I have know each other for a while now and we’ve been talking about…the reason that I was really excited to have you on this program was that you have a lot of excitement yourself around ideas and concepts and issues with regards to going green with computing technologies in general but also within your specific bailiwick, which is web-hosting and VPS servers. Now, some of these things are very important because I think the typical set up that business often do in web hosting is they buy on price, which is understandable especially in this economy, but I think that the cheapest thing isn’t always sort of the greenest option and I know that a lot of companies, whether or not they go green internally in the company they often outsource their web hosting to a company such as yours and maybe they don’t have any control over that. So sometimes these companies say things like “we’re buying wind credits” or “we’re buying offsets. So we’re green.”  And I think it’s important to go a little deeper than that to understand the issues. Why don’t we start with your background? What brought you into Solar VTG and then Solar VPS and tell us about your experiences in the data center that sort of illuminated these issues for you.

Ross:     I began with solar after working in IT for quite a while doing various jobs. Design, development, technical support and basically I was just very centered around IT services and it was something that interested me a lot. When I began Solar it was with a very small amount of capital to begin with and I needed to leverage a very small amount of capital to grow the business very rapidly. What I’d worked around in the past a lot was dedicated server companies. If you know anything about dedicated server companies, as far as the budget dedicated goes, low end machines, sometimes a hard drive that’s been used many times over and really it’s all about, from the company’s perspective, getting as much money out of a piece of hardware as you possibly can and not really looking at things from the back end. And it’s very costly, not only in terms of the customer’s standpoint but it’s very costly from the company’s standpoint. There’s very little automation in their business processes. Anyway, it was a business model I knew wasn’t going to work for me. And I began Solar around the idea of virtualization and that’s really how it got started. There was definitely from the beginning an effort to be green, in terms of the type of services we were offering...

Sean:     If you don’t mind me, I just want to butt in there for a second.  For people that are listening that aren’t familiar with what virtualization technologies are. A lot of people I think think that when you rent a web host, or a website you get your own box, your own server somewhere. That’s a nice illusion.  It’s like when the kid’s dog goes off to live on a farm for the rest of their childhood. But I think the truth lies somewhere else. Which is that you mention that a lot of older computers are used when they do that but that actually what’s happening a lot of times is there’s shared hosting where a lot of people together are sharing one server, which is actually kind of a cool, green thing but it doesn’t suit the needs of most businesses who need to have their own server or at least the auspices of that in terms of bandwidth. So it needs to be a fast machine that can deal with a lot of traffic for a business that’s growing or a popular blog or something like that. Give us your succinct definition, if you would, of what virtualization is all about.

Ross:     Well obviously you brought up there’s the whole idea of shared web hosting which is what I think most people are familiar with. And that’s something that I, in my personal opinion caters more toward the personal user. Like you said, businesses do often times need their own infrastructure separate of other people, and so that’s why they go for the dedicated servers. Virtualization is sort of a step in between, but in my opinion it’s actually a step away from dedicated servers as well.  What it is it’s just a dedicated server that runs a software application layer on top of the dedicated server and it virtualizes that dedicated server into many smaller virtual machines or [??] that basically work just like a dedicated server would. So from the customers’ perspective they’re getting pretty much the same thing at a fraction of the cost. But they’re also getting a lot more. If you’re talking about the budget dedicated market, from a company’s perspective it’s all about price. Selling the cheapest possible thing, getting the cheapest possible thing. With virtualization it’s not like that at all. In fact, we bundle things like managed services, we give them software tools that allows them to do automated back-ups, monitoring of their actual server, have redundancy built into place that they would never get for that price point on a dedicated server platform. So to a lot of people it really exists as a jumping point between shares dedicated. But we’re actually seeing a swing back from people that are saying “Listen we don’t need a dedicated server. We’re realizing how great virtualization is as the technology progresses and we’d like to get rid of our dedicated servers and virtualize everything.”

Sean:     It’s very cool technology and I think it’s a great way to optimize the computing resources. We have these massively fast powerful computers these days and it’s really cool to be able to run multiple, virtual computers on one machine in a way that improves stability and sort of optimizes the performance on each machine, because there’s a lot of wasted computing resources that happen, I know, on your typical server. So I’m curious now. So we have some underpinnings here for greener technology solutions, which also happen to be just what makes sense financially. Tell us what attracted you to the green community, specifically green computing, green efforts, within regards to IT industry.

Ross:     Well obviously, I don’t know if you’ve ever been inside one of these data facilities but they’re kind of a scary place. They’re full of noise, air conditioning, servers, fans. You can walk behind a rack that’s full of servers and there’s all this hot air blowing out at you. You can look at this whole facility and say this is using a huge amount of power. And they do. They do use an enormous amount of power. When you think about your average data facility now, one of the data facilities that we use, in my personal opinion, is a smaller data facility. And they have roughly about 4000 servers in the actual facility. Now each one of these servers is probably using one or two hard drives, many of them are using one or more processors. All of these things are taking an enormous amount of power to run. The average power supply for a new dedicated server these days is in upwards of 500 watts. So when you multiply that across 4000, 5000 servers you’re talking about an enormous amount of power draw. What really attracted me is, because being in the IT services industry, I knew that I really had a responsibility to do something about this and say, “Listen. There’s got to be a better way to perform services for people and to provide them with hosting without using so much power across our infrastructure.” And we developed what we’re offering now in our green offerings now by doing a lot of research into what some of these companies like Intel and Western Digital are doing to reduce power consumption from their specific components like processors and hard drives. One of the things that we ran into when we were doing some research into hard drives was this green power hard drive that Western Digital offers. Now these aren’t always the best for what we offer in terms of virtualization notes because in order to run many small virtual instances it requires a lot of actual hard drive power. But these are great for internal machines; they’re great for stand alone dedicated servers, if you have to go that way. And they use far less power; I think it’s something like 30% less power than your average hard drive. And according to Western Digital that equates to taking your car off the road each year for 14 days. Which is fairly significant when you consider the number of hard drives that are running, not only in our data facilities, but in people’s homes, in their actual computers.  Just the math based on those 4000 servers, if you took an entire data facility and put those hard drives in all of those servers it would be the equivalent of taking 115 cars off the road for a single year.

Sean:     Interesting. Now is that something that you think is going to be an industry wide change or is Western Digital…are other people following into that markets or is it still sort of a fringe product?

Ross:     It is to a certain extent because I think some people haven’t either had the money or wanted to adopt or buy into the green efforts. But I think these companies are really making a push for this. I think companies like Western Digital, Seagate and Intel are really beginning to understand how important it is to push these efforts. If you go to either one of their websites you’ll read about the things that they’re doing to become more environmentally conscious with their products. Obviously they’re not getting rid of their legacy products that aren’t green or certified as green, but they’re putting a very heavy push on their new green products, and I think it’s great.

Sean:     Okay, that’s westerndigital.com, for anybody listening in. Although that’s not who I have on the podcast with me but as long as we’re mentioning it I want to make sure people know the website. We’re going to take a quick break and then we’re going to be back with Ross Brouse who is the CEO of Solar Virtualization Technologies Group and solarvps.com. And we will be right back with Green Talk Radio.

Sean:     Okay and we are back talking about greening your business and personal web server hosting solutions and I’m talking with Ross Brouse who is the CEO of Solar Virtualization Technologies Group and Solar VPS. Ross, when we left we were just talking about the underpinnings in data centers and in servers that can make them greener. We got as far as hard drives. What are some of the other things that people should be looking for in terms of their web hosting companies and the equipment that they’re using for the web hosts?

Ross:     Well the main components obviously with anything in terms of a virtualization server or a dedicated server, or even a shared hosting server would be your hard drives, your RAM and your processors, because these are the things that are requiring the most amount of power. We’ve addressed each one of these components with our new offerings. Obviously as I mentioned before, we’re using hard drives that spin at either a lower spindle speed and reduce power significantly but we’re also using new Intel low voltage processors that actually reduce power consumption from about 35% to 60%. Generally what you’ll find today in new servers, is processors that run between 80 and 120 watts per CPU. Ours use 50. So that’s a significant savings in terms of, not only cost for us, but CO2 emission as it equates to CO2 emission with our actual power draw.

Sean:     For the technology enthusiasts in the audience, what are some of the processors, the newer processors, the names that Intel gives them? They have all their clever little names for all their products. Can you tell us some of the ones that are better and greener?

Ross:     Well, what they’re doing right is the latest processor lines are called the Clover Town and Harbor Town, which are the 5300 and 5400 series. The processors we use are the Clover Town 5300 series and Intel makes a 1.8 gigahertz quad core CUP, called the L5320 which is their local [??] line and that is the actual processor that consumes only 50 watts. I think there are some naysayers that will tell you that this is a performance hit. But I think when you balance things across your services and you set things up properly and you use the proper technologies, there isn’t any performance hit at all. In fact comparatively speaking, the servers that we used before we moved to these, our performance has gone up significantly. It’s much better than it previously was. So I’m very happy to be using these components and I don’t see any performance hit in them at all.

Sean:     That’s great. I came to your company, from Green Living Ideas we were brought to you based on your very notable, very good, positive reputation on places like Web Hosting Talk and other web server, web master forums that I frequent. And that’s how we found out. But as I got to talk to you more I was excited to hear about the Solar Green initiative that you were putting together. And that was one of the reasons that I wanted to bring you on the program to share this information with our listeners. Can you tell us about, also internally, as a company, Solar VPS and Solar VPG, I understand you guys run on completely green computing practices? How have you made that work for both you and your employees of the company?

Ross:     Well, with our Solar Green initiative we have three goals that power that initiative. Those are reducing customer energy consumption, reducing our internal company energy consumption and supporting green efforts in our community. In terms of our customer energy consumption, this really equates to our green product offerings. And this is the best way for us to put these green tools in the hands of our customers is by offering them green certified products. It’s very difficult, obviously, for us to get into their specific offices and get them to reduce their power consumption but I think through our offerings we can send them the message that says, “Listen. This is important and by buying one of these you’re helping to support these efforts.” So that’s really important in terms of our customer energy consumption. For our company energy consumption this really is cool because it really exists around how we run this business. We don’t have a central home office that we work from. In fact we work from several offices in various places around the globe. Our whole company infrastructure is virtualized in the way we work and communicate and even offer our products. So this really equates to a lot of energy savings. There’s very little commuting amongst any of the people that work for the company. Many of the people that do commute use public transportation to get to and from the office and many of us are just telecommuters so we actually work from offices built right into our homes. And this is really great because it allows us to spend m ore time with our families and really just have a higher quality of life. Down to the servers that we use in our offices and the tools that we use to communicate with one another, it’s really just an internal effort to become more green and to become more virtualized and that’s the second goal.

Sean:     Another use of this term, virtualization, this is a virtualization of the office and the business. Talking about virtualization of the servers and I just want to clarify the terminology. But it’s the same term applied two different ways. And I totally agree with you, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to virtualize a business like that, to be able to run a business but to not have to do the traditional going into the office and getting in your gas-guzzling car and being away from your family, all of these things. Creating an artificial environment for the business versus everybody being able to have a higher quality of life and working from home. Green Living Ideas is run the exact same way and you and I realized that on our calls, we’re living very similar existences with regards to our businesses. I’m curious about, what are some of the technologies that you guys have employed to facilitate virtualization of the office. Obviously you have to do it, because of the international scope, as you mentioned, you have offices all over the world. Tell us about some of the technologies and software and such that you’re employing to make that happen.

Ross:     Well we are platinum partners of [???] who is formerly FWSoft and we leverage a lot of their server based software to power our business. In fact most of the areas of our business are powered by their software, including their virtuoso software and their automation software. And we really use this to our advantage because we’ve virtualized our desktops, we’ve connected our networks through VPN, we use voice over IP telephone systems that allow us to talk for unlimited at no cost. We’ve built in teleconferencing, video conferencing, we stay connected to each other very well, even when we’re out on the go. Every member of our company is enabled with a Blackberry that allows us to communicate no matter where we are and it’s just really wonderful to be able to work like that and it’s really translated to excellent customer service and we’ve been able to maintain our high level of customer service because we work this way.

 

Sean:     That’s great. We use iPhones, but same thing. Whatever you choose it’s being able to have…we finally have these products that can do email decently, can actually surf the web in a real way, and can keep you in touch with IM and obviously phone and voice over IP is a huge enabling technology behind this. Being able to communicate over a phone-type communication over the internet, which has been around a while but again, I think it’s one of these things where it’s really gotten to the main-stream and gotten to be functional enough for a business to use whereas maybe five years ago, using voice over IP, you were spending a lot of money and it wasn’t maybe sounding so great and now it’s fairly readily available. I want to give a plug to a company that we use, and I have no financial relationship with them, except for spending money with them, we use a product called Ring Central. Ringcentral.com. It’s great for small businesses that want to be able to do voice over IP and communicate with their employees. So something to check out for our listeners out there. We’re going to take one more break and then we’re going to be back with Ross Brouse, who is the CEO of Solar Virtualization Technologies Group and Solar VPS who are the founders of Solar Green initiative that they employ in their hosting center and we’re talking about greening your web server hosting. We’ll be right back on Green Talk radio. This is Sean Daily.

Sean:     We are back. We are talking about greening your web server hosting. I’m talking with Ross Brouse who is the CEO of Solar Virtualization Technologies Group. Ross, before the break we were just talking about a lot of things, technology stuff and quality of life stuff and I wanted to ask you about all of these tools and methods that have allowed you as a company to become green and facilitated your customers in going greener with their web hosting through the Solar Green initiative. How do you plan on continuing your efforts to spread this initiative and going green as a small business?

Ross:     Obviously we’re sending a message with our Solar Green initiative…In my specific opinion, both my parents were educators and so I really believe in the importance of education in getting that message out there. We’re taking on some new initiatives to go out and speak about this, to work with other online groups to promote the ideas and to partner with companies such as Green Living Ideas to really get the message out there about the importance of the green effort, especially with regards to the [??] market and the IT services industry. There’s just so much that needs to be done here. And that can be done here. And I think there really will be more and more support as time goes on from customers and vendors and other small businesses to really push these ideas. This isn’t just limited to our companies. I think this message actually applies to our personal lives as well. And that’s one of the great things about Green Living Ideas talks about how that all equates to your personal life. And really demonstrating to companies that it’s more than just becoming more environmentally conscious. It’s about becoming more successful in terms of your business and in terms of the people who work with you, providing them with a better quality of life by enabling them with these technologies, enabling them and showing them that virtualization and working in these virtual spaces can be so highly effective to company productivity and to just being more conscious about the whole green initiative.

Sean:     and I think you’re really a great case-study for that. You’re a guy who’s built a very successful business online with all of this customer service and the communication on a global level. And you and I have talked about the quality of life with the family and spending time with you’re managing that balancing act as well and I think that’s a real trick. So whether you’re a business out there that’s listening in, talking about, “Well. I just want to make sure that part of our web hosting is greener and such” or if you’re looking at these technologies and concepts in terms of improving quality of life, there are so many benefits available from doing these things. So I really appreciate it. I think you’re a real visionary in this industry and I appreciate your coming on the program today and sharing your viewpoint with our listeners. Is there anything else you’d like to leave our listeners with today?

Ross:     I’d just like to say that obviously we all have a responsibility to take on these green ideas and these green initiatives and to push them. Especially as small business owners. And I think for anybody who’s listening that is an entrepreneur like myself that they should really take these ideas to heart and look at what’s being done today, especially in the small business market, and look at some of these options and some of these software tools and really see how they can make these work effectively for their businesses because I think the more people like myself that do this, the quicker this message will get out and the sooner a lot of these things will improve.

Sean:     And I think it is, for a lot of people, I think it’s just the lack of information about the products and the services, the technologies that are available and also hearing stories from people like you that have been doing this and making it work, both on a business and personal level. Again, very much appreciate your coming on the program Ross, look forward to talking to you more in the future and much luck with the Solar Green initiative.

Ross:     Thanks so much Sean.

Sean:     My guest today has been Ross Brouse, CEO of Solar Virtualization Technologies Group and Solar VPS. You can find them online at solarvps.com. This is Sean Daily for Green Talk radio signing off. Thanks everyone.