Lean and Green
For many years at Memset® Ltd. we have recognised that we use a great deal of electricity to run servers for our customers, and also that manufacturing of computer hardware is itself a very energy and carbon-intensive process. Using less servers and less electricity also saves us money, so there really is no excuse to not be efficient - lean and green.
We have a history of leading the way in terms of "green hosting", and are continuously innovating in this important area. We also openly share our best practice and collaborate with others through Kate's involvement with the British Computer Society's Data Centre Specialist Group and Intellect UK's data centre group
Our approach to managing our environmental impact is compliant with ISO 14001:2004, and is broadly described below.
Carbon Neutral® hosting
In August 2006, Memset® became the UK's first Carbon Neutral® Web host. In becoming Carbon Neutral, we worked with The CarbonNeutral® Company to identify our 'carbon footprint', or the approximate volume of CO2 generated by the organisation. It is calculated by assessing energy usage, business travel, and all components of the company's operations that consume power or generate waste and by-products. Memset® uses a very large amount of electricity to power servers, and that formed the vast bulk of our carbon footprint.
The next stage in the process was to explore ways to reduce this footprint and energy use wherever possible. This included a review of current suppliers to explore the viability of using 'green' suppliers or energy from renewable resources, and also examined efficiency technologies already in use, (such as our Miniserver virtual machines). Finally, in order to 'neutralise' unavoidable CO2 emissions, we were required to support a range of 'offset projects' to absorb or save the same amount of CO2 emissions as were being created.
Memset® was initially supporting a sustainable forestry project, i.e. planting trees which in turn absorb CO2 as they grow. However, in response to concerns over the validity of forestry as a carbon offsetting measure, we moved our investment to support a new methane capture project in the Ruhr which has very measurable benefits (methane is 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas). We continue to be audited annually by the Carbon Neutral company and we are committed to minimising our environmental impact.
Energy efficiency policy
We adhere to the EU Code of Conduct for data centres, which stipulates a comprehensive range of best practices for data centre operators and hosting providers. These measures include power provision, cooling, good use of virtualisation, selection of efficient software, multiple tenders for selection of servers and much, much more. At present we exceed the minimum requirements to be participants of the scheme. Our energy efficiency measures have three main areas:
- Data centre
Servers use a great deal of electricity so we have taken a number of steps to minimise this. The data centres we use are very efficient, for example using the latest cooling systems (a chilled water loop) so that as little energy as possible is wasted cooling the servers, and all the power provisioning systems (UPSes, power distribution etc) are very efficient. When choosing data centre facilities we now require compliance with the relevant recommendations of the European Union Code of Conduct for Data Centres.
We also monitor the power usage of all racks and actively manage the power distribution which maximises energy efficiency within the data centres by eliminating hot / cold spots.
We source servers based in part on their energy-efficiency: in the last three years the amount of electricity an average server uses has roughly halved, but the amount of work they can do has increased by two to four times. We believe in spending a little extra on hardware to get the latest in energy-efficient machines, and gain the cost-savings in the long term through reduced power bills. We currently have a policy of replacing out-dated hardware after three years since Moore's Law makes replacing them economically and environmentally sensible (see below).
Thirdly, we use a lot of virtualisation in the form of our ®Miniserver VM virtual dedicated servers. What this means is that rather than having one server (one box) doing one task we have lots of smaller virtual machines on one server each doing a task, so that we need many less machines overall.
We actively encourage our customers to make use of our ®Miniserver VM technology through competitive pricing. Also our sales team's orders are not to sell a dedicated box where a virtual one will do just to bump up the sales figures.
Reusing and recycling servers
There is a constant turn over in our server pool, and most servers just get reused by re-allocation to new customers, but after about three years it becomes economically and environmentally unsound to "sweat the asset". At this point, we recycle the server hardware.
In some cases we recycle it internally, for example by removing one processor from an older, less efficient model, and replacing its disks with energy-efficient versions, then redeploying it. Otherwise, we might sell it or its components on eBay, or donate our end-of-life hardware to Computer Aid International. They then send it to Africa where the machines are greatly needed, and are used in a very economical (and therefore environmentally friendly) fashion (eg under a desk with no cooling requirements, and only switched on when needed).
Obviously, any server storage devices are comprehensively erased (by writing zeros to the entire disk several times) before they leave our control.
...to the environment
Recycling paper is all well and good, but in reality all paper is sourced from renewable sources and recycling paper is actually quite energy intensive anyway. Therefore, the best thing to do with paper is to use as little as possible, which is what we do. We have an "avoid paper" policy, and all our documents and systems are electronic in our private Wiki. We only print things that we are required to keep in hard-copy form by law, but even that is a good form of carbon sequestration.
We encourage staff to commute in an environmentally-friendly fashion, mainly by virtue of providing them with electric bicycles free of charge. We also use intelligent logistics to avoid multiple transport journeys whenever possible, for example by having the data centre pre-stocked with servers and only transporting servers in batches of 5-10 whenever practical.
We have received recognition for our commitment to energy efficiency from a number of sources, and in particular our early adoption of virtualisation technologies and our development of Miniserver Virtual Machines has been noted.
- Jan 2008: Winner of Guildford Green award for commitment to sustainable business
- Mar 2008: Runner-up in the European Green IT Summit awards in the Market Leadership category
- Sep 2008: Winner of PCPro's environmental innovator award for ongoing commitment to environmental innovation
- Dec 2008: Medalist in the British Computer Society awards, in the BP Environmental category
- Feb 2009: Winner of UK CEED Sustain IT Environmental Innovator award
More than words
As with any policy, there is always a danger that the words will be written, heard at a staff meeting, and then filed away never to be seen again.
At Memset®, however, we have the advantage of being owner-managed. Being a passionate environmentalist myself, I take a personal lead on our environmental responsibility and ensure that we strive for optimal efficiency and least wastage in everything that we do.
Kate Craig-Wood Managing Director