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Solar powered servers for the masses

Solar powered web services. It isn't as zany as it sounds.

Next week, Greenest Host in San Diego is going to start offering carbon-free Web services to consumers.

The company plans to start selling Web hosting services for about $14.95 a month. The trick is that its servers and other systems are powered by solar panels or batteries charged by solar panels. In rare instances, a propane-based generator will kick in, but for the most part the services will not contribute greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Solar panels at your service Michael Kanellos/CNET

The solar-powered server center is the creation of Affordable Internet Services Online (AISO), which has been offering environmentally friendly Web hosting for a few years. AISO mostly serves medium and larger businesses. AISO's basic services cost a little less. Greenest Host gets capacity from AISO, adds a user-friendly interface and other services, and targets different customers.

AISO's building has also been designed to reduce the cooling load in the data center. Cooling can consume half the power in a data center, Fred Stack, vice president of marketing for Emerson, said earlier this year. Emerson makes cooling systems.

Solar power is more expensive than regular grid electricity, concedes Mike Corrales, who founded Greenest Host. "It is definitely more expensive," he said.

To reduce the additional cost, the company, along with AISO, has tried to make the server room and services as energy efficient as possible. The data center relies heavily on virtualization software from VMWare, which allows AISO to get more work per watt for each server. The 600-odd servers run on Opteron chips.

Thus, Greenest Host's services should cost only $1 or $2 more a month, he estimated.

Running a single server on solar power (rather than conventional grid electricity) cuts roughly the same amount of greenhouse gases you would save if you didn't burn 107 gallons of fuel.

Google put in a 1.6MW solar system in its headquarters. It covers about 30 percent of the company's electrical needs at that location. Applied Materials, which makes equipment for the solar industry, is putting up a larger 1.9MW solar system in its Silicon Valley headquarters. (Both of these systems, however, are dwarfed by the 5.2 megawatt solar system Sharp, the largest maker of solar panels, erected at its Kameyama factory in Japan.)