Here Comes the Sun

By Mel Duvall Print this article Print

Data center operators Phil and Sherry Nail were tired of skyrocketing electricity bills. They converted to solar power—and now the green strategy is generating business of its own.

For a relatively small data center operation, Affordable Internet Services Online boasts a rather eclectic customer base.

Situated in Romoland, Calif., amid the rolling hills of Riverside County, the company hosts Web sites from Sweden, Kenya, the United Kingdom, France, Austria, New Zealandand Australia. Clients range from personal Web sites and small businesses to large corporations. What could they have in common? These varied customers share a desire to have their sites—and their reputations—associated with what may be the world’s greenest data center.

Unlike most data centers, which are voracious energy consumers, AISO pays nothing for its electricity. The facility—its servers, cooling systems, even the owners’ residence next door—gets all its power from an array of solar panels.

“We initially did this because we thought it was the right thing to do,” says Phil Nail, who founded the company with his wife, Sherry, in 1997. “It wasn’t exactly part of a business plan to attract customers. But we found that companies from all over the world have been drawn to us. They want their customers to know that their Web sites are powered by solar energy.”

Prior to 1997, the Nails ran a small awning manufacturing business, but when the Internet revolution went into full swing, they decided to try something new. Despite having little IT experience, the couple decided to go into the Web site hosting business.

“At that time I couldn’t even install the software needed to run the first server we bought,” he says. That’s how Nail met his current network administrator, Steven Craig. Nail ran into Craig, who was just 15 at the time, at the local bowling alley. Craig told him he knew how to get his server up and running.

Nail housed that first server in a co-location facility 400 miles away in Sacramento, but eventually decided to try hosting the server himself.

He flew to Sacramento, picked up his server, strapped it onto the airplane seat next to him, and brought it home. “My customers’ sites were down for a few hours that day, but no one complained,” he says. Nail had a T1 line installed at his house, plugged in the server and became a data center operator.

Today the company boasts some 15,000 clients, and Nail’s daughter, Jennifer, has joined the operation.

In 2001, Nail decided to take another gamble. Faced with increasing energy costs and an understanding that data centers were gobbling up electricity across the country, he began looking into how he could make the business more efficient. He initially considered windmills, but determined the winds weren’t consistent enough around Romoland. Instead, he decided to make use of what was abundant in the desert-like climate—sunshine.

This article was originally published on 2008-01-30
Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.

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