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The ServInt Source

LEED versus PUE

At ServInt, we take our commitment to the environment very seriously. If you read the ServInt Source you’ve seen me periodically write on our green initiatives, and I am happy to report that some of the efforts our industry is making seem to be having a positive effect. EPA predictions of data center power usage made back in 2007 have not come to pass. This is in no small part due to increased efficiencies in data centers and server technology.

It is perfectly reasonable for people to be skeptical of green initiatives in data centers. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” is practically custom-built to describe data center efficiency initiatives. Energy consumption is a growing environmental and geopolitical problem, and data centers just plain use an incredible amount of energy. But let’s get real – if something new gets built these days and it creates jobs and commerce around it, the chances are good that it’s either Internet based or has a large Internet component. That requires infrastructure. And for those of you thinking that ‘the cloud’ is going to solve all that I hate to burst your bubble, but ‘the cloud’ is still computers plugged into power outlets living in a datacenter, just like before. And an incredible number of additional computers are getting added every second.

So since data centers aren’t going anywhere and are just getting bigger, it’s better that infrastructure folks focus on efficiency and on doing what they can to make their footprint as small as possible. But how do customers know their servers are housed and powered in facilities as Green as hosting providers promise?

When people think of green initiatives in data centers within the United States they usually think of the LEED program, run by the U.S. Green Building Council.  LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”. The USGBC people who run LEED have done a great job of getting their names out there, and you see a lot of building projects these days that tout Silver, Gold & Platinum LEED building projects.

USGPC does some great work, but people have started using LEED certification as shorthand for whether data centers are ‘green’ or not, and that’s really a mistake.  LEED programs have historically only certified new construction. So if you’re building a brand new data center, LEED is great and provides a set of guidelines to aspire to, but if your servers are housed in a facility that was retrofitted as data center space—as many data centers are—then LEED certification does not apply. USGBC is trying to fix this with their LEED for Existing Buildings rating system, but LEED-EB only works for certain types of buildings and ends up being—along with LEED as well—fairly process- rather than results-oriented.

Simply put, LEED is a set of green building best practices, but does not measure the actual environmental impact of the data center after it is up and running. That’s why I don’t tend to pay attention to LEED, as cool as it is. Instead I go straight to the PUE number for a data center space and the efforts taken to lower that number.

PUE stands for Power Usage Effectiveness and was developed by an organization called The Green Grid.

PUE is a results-oriented metric that quantifies how efficient a data center is when it comes to cooling and infrastructure. And aside from the electricity used directly to run the servers, when we’re talking about power usage in a data center, we’re talking about cooling.

We get asked whether we’re LEED certified in our data centers. We’re not, simply because our data centers are housed in facilities that predate LEED. But a good PUE-optimized data center in a repurposed building can trump a Gold certified datacenter if it’s done right. This is part of the reason we have partnered with Coresite for our main private data center builds in Northern Virginia, DC, and LA. Every Coresite facility maintains a low PUE number with some as low as 1.3.

There’s nothing wrong with LEED, it just doesn’t measure everybody. And it’s an indicator of process, not results. For results you need to ask about PUE.

Photo by Wonderlane

ServInt’s New Data Center and Our Green Commitment

We just announced the opening of our newest data center, and as I write this, I’m looking at some pictures of the new facility. Next to these are some other photos of trees being planted. We just completed our 2011 carbon footprint reassessment and have upped our commitments to reforestation through our partners at American Forests.

There’s something funny about seeing pictures of trees being planted next to shots of our new data center in Reston, VA: on the one hand, I’m looking at tender young saplings lovingly held and planted in the soil; on the other, I see stark, white walls, massive industrial cooling units, and rows and rows of server racks.

By the visual alone, you might think that data center space is the most un-Green part of a hosting company’s operation. And while this can be true for a company without a serious commitment to the environment, choice of data center facility and build-out has some of the greatest Green potential of anything we do. That’s one of the reasons we chose to build out our private data center the way we did.

In previous posts, I’ve gone into detail about how the server hardware choices ServInt makes have a huge impact on decreasing our carbon footprint. This is true now more than ever. As a basic example, in the last five years the number of cpu cores we can pack into a single rack of data center space for about the same price has multiplied roughly five-fold while the power consumption and cooling needs for that same rack have remained constant. (And this example does not even factor in the increased processing power of each core!) Committing to purchasing and deploying this new, more efficient hardware greatly reduces out power-to-customer ratio and keeps our carbon footprint in check.

But hardware is just one step. As we maximize the processing power in a rack, we also have to efficiently house and cool that rack. This is where the design of a datacenter really plays into shrinking our carbon footprint. As a general rule, the power required to cool and house servers is typically equal to 30 to 50 percent of the power needed to simply run those servers. Once you’ve picked your hardware platform, keeping the electrical requirements of cooling and infrastructure down is a central Green goal for environmentally sensitive hosts.

In most circles, air conditioning is not simply the punching bag of the Green movement, it is the devil itself. Nothing captures the essence of un-Green like the notion of cooling the interior of a building by literally pumping heat into the outside air… using fossil fuels… and leaving the windows open. But in intelligently designed, purpose-built data centers, we’re talking about well insulated, windowless rooms that are far more efficient than normal office or residential space. Still, when these rooms are filled with servers they can demand more than 40 times the cooling as the same amount of space in a typical residential home. There is simply no other way to keep servers from literally melting down than blasting cold air at them. Our business is hosting, but our byproduct is heat.

The modern data center facility helps greatly in minimizing the build-up of heat and efficiently removing it. From hot and cold aisles and forcing air directly to racks under raised floors to huge heat exchangers that tap into the cold air on a winter day and smart cooling units that are adaptive and work in sync to spool up or down as needed throughout a facility, engineers have come up with some downright ingenious solutions to efficiently deliver cold air to hot servers. And all these improvements have one goal: to reduce the electricity it takes to keep those cpu cores cool.

All of these and many other factors went into our decision about what type of new data center we would open. And they are just a few of the elements of our much larger Green Hosting Initiative, including the trees American Forests is continually planting to offset the carbon we cannot reduce directly.

If you’d like to see some pictures of our datacenters or some of the tree planting we have sponsored in recent years, check them out in our photos section on Facebook.

ServInt Nominated for an NVTC Green Award

At ServInt, we’ve made no secret of our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. Whether it’s our regular equipment recycling, the ongoing retrofitting of more efficient and environmentally friendly equipment, 110% carbon offsetting policy, or our corporate patronage of American Forests, you certainly can’t say we’ve been standing idly by.

That’s why we’re honored to have been nominated by the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) for it’s annual Green Award.

With that being said, we obviously don’t do this for the awards. We’ve always tried our best to identify and minimize the damage our industry does to the environment. When we first set out to tackle our ongoing green initiative, we took a long, hard look at our infrastructure, our software, our hosting platform, and our facilities. Putting a dent in our carbon footprint meant more than simply buying more energy-efficient hardware, it also meant reengineering our software to increase the performance of our products without increasing the number of resources they consume.

The result is more — and better — performance for our customers, less cooling and energy costs for us, and a healthier planet for everyone. It truly is a win-win situation.

We’ve been a member of the NVTC for years, and as the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC Metro area has expanded, so have we. We’d like to give a warm thank you to the NVTC for nominating ServInt.

In the meantime, as we continue to grow we’ll keep doing whatever we can to build a greener future for all of us.

Green Retrofitting: Corporate Responsibility That Makes Sense

Challenges Are Catalysts for Innovation

Yesterday, I wrote about a new direction for ServInt’s social media outreach. Basically, I explained that a lot of companies, ServInt included, spend too much time talking about themselves and not enough time talking about their customers. I made a new rule saying that we’d talk more about you .

So, naturally, I’m going to kick that off by talking about us .

Earth Week 2010 is coming to a close and as such I thought it appropriate to reflect on a few of our specific accomplishments in green technology. In our more than 15 year history, we’ve been relatively silent trailblazers. We are pioneers in dedicated and VPS hosting and we were one of the first hosts to actively work on improving inefficient and environmentally troubling urban infrastructure. With that being said, there are some unique challenges that we face precisely because of our status as trailblazers.

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ServInt Recycles! A look Inside ServInt’s Latest Recycling Initiative

As I’m sure you know by now, ServInt has been in the webhosting business for more than 15 years.

In that time, we’ve built literally tons of servers along with truly massive network infrastructure literally all across the country. As we’ve grown and remained competitive, we’ve had to upgrade our hardware to keep up. We’ve been recycling our equipment cyclically for years. As we continually update our infrastructure, we phase out legacy hardware for newer, faster, more efficient equipment.

Recently, we completed another recycling project that encompassed all of our data centers on the East Coast. This particular run wasn’t our largest, but it was an interesting example of just how much hardware a hosting company requires over a relatively short period of time.

I travelled to our data centers in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., snapped a few pictures of the stacks of old racked servers on their way to being recycled as well as hundreds of hard drives on their way to being shredded. When all was said and done, we recycled roughly 6 tons of equipment and shredded over 740 hard drives during this recycling run alone!

So, without further ado, here are a few of our favorite photos.

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Intelligent Offsets: Planting Our Way to A Cleaner Planet

The dawn of a greener age

This week, all of us at ServInt are proud to celebrate Earth Week. While environmental protection is always on our mind, this week gives us the opportunity to focus on our actual accomplishments and lay out a strategy to take it one step further.

Planting the Seed

Earlier this month, ServInt completed its reforestation goals for the first quarter of 2010. Our goal is to not only be carbon neutral, but to be carbon positive. In our case that meant that we would go from offsetting 110% of our VPS line’s carbon emissions to 110% of our entire inventory across product lines. This year, amid our rapid growth in the DC area and our expansion to the West Coast, we plan to do it again.

Now, we know that offsets are a controversial topic for some. Many offsets are vague with labyrinthine paths to the sources and companies they claim are actually delivering renewable energy. We know there are issues with the efficiency of many of these organizations, whether the funds one donates are being used to effectively advance clean energy or whether the funds are getting lost in administration.

But we had to do something. Having been in business for more than 15 years, our customers expect premium performance. That requires the best pipes in the world, and there are few places with better connectivity than the Washington, D.C. metro area and the Los Angeles metro area. Instead of building a cheap warehouse and laying fiber out in the middle of nowhere, the nature of our business required us to build our data centers where the traffic is and that meant building in urban areas.

For months, we exhaustively researched where to purchase offsets and from whom. We  didn’t want to throw money out into the ether and claim we were helping the planet. We wanted accountability, efficiency, and a partnership with an organization that was actually doing good.

A Growing Company, In More Ways Than One

ServInt is an official corporate patron of American Forests.

ServInt, along with companies as distinguished as Ikea, Mcdonalds, Paul Mitchell, and Coca-Cola, offsets its carbon emissions by planting trees that, over time, gobble it back up. As we mentioned before, we offset 110% of the carbon emissions of our entire product line on top of our ongoing integration of more energy efficient equipment and our development of software to aid us in pursuit of staying carbon positive!

American Forests has a Four Star rating from Charity Navigator in both its Organizational Efficiency (the percentage of its revenue that is used for its mission as opposed to administrative costs) and its Organizational Capacity (its ability to grow effectively).

ServInt is a company that cares about the planet. We have a reputation to uphold, and as such we are proud to partner with American Forests for the third year in a row!

Click here to learn more about American Forests.

Photo by gilderic.

Being Candid About Being Green

Green is vital, but so is pragmatism

Right up there with “The Cloud”, Green hosting has been a heavily trafficked buzzword in our industry for nearly 3 years.

In 2008, ServInt began retrofitting its data centers and, in combination with a massive investment in reforestation projects all over the world, we became climate positive within one year. We strive to be green because we know we have to, we have a responsibility to do so as a growing business with international clientele who expect their hosting company to understand the impact it has on the world around them.

In other words, we get it and want to do our part for the right reasons.

More after the jump.

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Web Hosting: Making A Difference & Changing the World


Christian Dawson, ServInt COO

Earlier today we announced that I have been named ServInt’s Chief Operating Officer (COO). It is a promotion from within – I’ve been with the company for over 11 years now, having started in 1998 as the assistant to the Director of Marketing. It’s been quite a journey!

I wanted to use this as an opportunity to talk a bit about my goals, and my thoughts about the web hosting industry as a whole. I think I have a unique perspective, because I have been in this industry for a long time but I’ve never really become a ‘techie’. To be honest, I don’t  have much of a geek background or a real passion for technology.

When I started at ServInt 11 years ago I was basically a kid – full of passion and ideas. I wanted to change the world, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it working for some tech company. I thought I’d give it a year or two, learn a bit and plot my next move. I didn’t know what to make of the web hosting industry, but it didn’t seem “Important.”

And yet I found myself sticking around, year after year. My job evolved as I kept taking on more and more responsibilities. I loved every stage, learning and growing each step along the way. Now, as I take on even more responsibility I am looking back and trying to figure out why this job has exceeded all of the expectations I had for it and kept me interested and engaged. After all, I wasn’t looking for this. I wanted to find a way to change the world.

With hindsight, I can tell you exactly why I fell in love with this job.

Working at ServInt, I’ve been changing the world all along!

This is a truth that I just didn’t see coming.

My younger self figured I’d need to move on in order to make a difference and do important things. That younger version of me had no idea. I work for an important company – one that is making a difference, and continues to change the world on a daily basis – on a small scale and a grand one. In my job I get to make a huge impact  on people’s lives every day. The fact that I’ve been able to do that for over 11 years and counting is just incredible!

How does a company like ServInt change the world?

As a business-class web hosting provider, we basically build homes on the Internet. We give websites a place to operate – so that business owners and their employees can follow their dreams and earn a living for their families.

You may think of web hosting as an ‘infrastructure’ service, but I get to work for a company that is more than that. Our company prides itself on being the most service-oriented web host out there – and often times that is great fun. We talk with our customers, and we help them achieve their goals.  I get to work with companies every day looking to put their thoughts into action. When the dreams that we help build are actualized, it changes lives.

These ‘homes on the Internet’ that ServInt builds don’t just change individual lives either. Over the course of the past 11 to 15 years they have changed everybody’s life. Web based businesses, many of the very ones ServInt hosts, have changed how everybody gathers and shares information. They have changed the way we all communicate. When I started, the Internet existed but was less important to most than either the telephone or cable television. Today most everybody I know would give up phone, television and a lot of other things before they would ever give up their Internet access.

The technologies that my industry has helped fuel have not just changed how we stay in touch with our friends and family or how we get our news, weather, directions, goods or entertainment. They have also changed how we can get our own ideas out there. They have given everybody a louder voice, and when used responsibly this power can move mountains. This industry has given people the power to gather and mobilize for change like never before. The industry I am a part of is busy changing both China and Iran from within, as it has changed much of the rest of the world.

I think in the past 11 years the world dove into the deep-end of a new Information Age, facilitated directly by ServInt and companies like us. It has been an incredible ride, and one I wouldn’t trade for anything. In a more tangible way than I could have dreamed possible, I have been able to be a part of changing the world. I look forward to continuing to do so as ServInt’s COO.

As a final note, I have one of the first conference speaking sessions at HostingCon, which starts today. My session starts at 11:00 AM and I plan to discuss “green” Web Hosting - another thing I am proud to have been a part of here at ServInt. I hope that you can join us!

Christian Dawson
Chief Operating Officer

Going to HostingCon? Check out our Presentation on Green Hosting!

In the midst of all of our recent accolades, I’d like to remind anyone attending next week’s HostingCon in our lovely nation’s capital that our very own Christian Dawson will be giving a presentation on green hosting at 11 am on Monday the 10th.

For more information, click here for Monday’s schedule.

I’ll be there as well, so don’t hesitate to say hi.

If you’re in town, check it out!

The Annual ServInt Employee Picnic

We’re known as a bunch of hard-working folks who keep our customers online through thick and thin, 24/7/365. As an institution that’s true, but at the end of the day ServInt is comprised of individuals – each with our own goals and obligations, interests and challenges. Working hard can be stressful so it’s great that every year ServInt throws a big company picnic and gives (almost) all of us a chance to blow off steam!

Each year we gather up as many of ServInt’s employees and their families as we can and have a great day of fun and games here in Northern Virginia. This weekend we threw 2009’s picnic – by far the best one yet!

What’s so great is seeing the children running around having fun. When the company started 14 years ago there weren’t many children running around at events we threw. Nowadays it seems like the kids outnumber the employees!

One of the cool little games we had going on was something called a Pitchburst. The concept is the same as a ‘dunk tank’ but instead of wasting hundreds of gallons of water, you accomplish the same goal with a water balloon suspended over the head of the victim. It is just as much fun, but a whole lot better for the environment.

During the picnic, employees got to take turns soaking their managers. It was all for a good cause too – for every direct hit ServInt agreed to plant an extra 3 trees in ServInt’s reforestation project. I’m not even sure we’ve even managed to tally up just how many trees that will end up being… though I know it’ll be a lot. It’s been a couple of days now, and I feel like I’m still drying out!


PS: The manager getting soaked in the attached picture is Curtis Berry, our Director of Information. The guy knows just about everything there is to know about management information systems… he knows database management better than anybody else I know… but none of that could spare him from the merciless attacks that came from his coworkers. He was not alone! ;)

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