Web Hosting Interview - eLINIA April 2008

April 2008
Web Hosting Interview - eLINIA April 2008

James Carnie, Technical Architect, eLINIA

As those who have visited this country will know, Wales is steeped in history and tradition, and blessed with some of the most splendid natural beauty and scenery in the world. It is also home to eLINIA, a web hosting provider working out of Wales' largest city, Cardiff. Possibly because of its locality, eLINIA feels strongly about the environment - strongly enough to launch carbon-neutral hosting earlier this year. But whereas many hosts make a big thing out of such initiatives, eLINIA's website barely mentions it. We ask James Carnie, eLINIA's Technical Architect, whether we have reached a stage where green hosting is no longer a buzzword, but has actually become a corporate way of life as far as hosting is concerned.

  • HOSTSEARCH: James - thanks for this interview. Appreciate you spending you time with us... now before we kick off why don't let our visitors know a bit about eLINIA and your role in the organization.
    JAMES CARNIE: eLINIA was founded in 2005 by a group of former BT employees who launched BT's first Internet Datacentre from Stadium House, Cardiff in 1995 and helped pioneer hosting within the organisation. We maintain a strong relationship with BT and have worked with them on projects, but remain very much our own company with our own ethos.

    We have a wide range of customers across all sectors and concentrate on projects that require tailored solutions. We pride ourselves on not having what other companies might call a 'typical' customer.  

    My official title is Technical Architect, which means that I am responsible for eLINIA's technical pre-sales, but I'm also involved in signing up new business.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Your website suggests that you provide Managed Services. Can you give us an overview of this part of your business? Why didn't you go the shared hosting and dedicated server route?
    JAMES CARNIE: If you look at the roots of eLINIA, most people in the business have a background in complex hosted application services for large enterprises. It was a conscious decision for us not to go down the 'volume' sale route as offering a standard package is not really what we are about. Our customers are extremely varied and have complex requirements. We concentrate on offering a bespoke service based on the individual requirements of each organisation we deal with.

    Managed hosting is part of what we offer, but I think it sells our business short to say that this is all we offer. Our security applications are used by a number of the country's largest organisations and we're actively looking to increase our software as a service offering. We believe this is a vital step in the progression of our business and the industry as a whole.
  • HOSTSEARCH: And your website says you also offer "partial to full outsourcing". What sorts of services do you provide people?
    JAMES CARNIE: We provide network, server, OS, database, and support for a number of hosted applications, which we provide through our network of technology partners. Fundamentally we are infrastructure specialists.  We are all about keeping your application platform secure and available all the time.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: Give us an idea of some of the packages you have put together for companies and how they have benefited those companies.
    JAMES CARNIE: We're proud of the work we did with the National Assembly for Wales to help them overhaul their website, but it's difficult to single out one specific project as the customers we work with are so varied. What we do can involve anything from a factoring platform for a large banking customer, to a virtualised ASP platform for a service provider, to a high bandwidth content delivery platform for a new media company.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Earlier this year you started carbon-free hosting. For the uninitiated, what is carbon-free hosting and how did you achieve it?
    JAMES CARNIE: Carbon-free hosting can take on a number of different guises, the central aim being to power data-centres in a way that does not harm the environment. We have undertaken an initiative to reduce the carbon footprint on behalf of our customers.  
    One of the most fundamental decisions we have recently taken is to take up of space in Equinix LD4 facility powered by Biomass power station. We have also been working with the Welsh Assembly Government on data centres that focus on wind power and waste to energy.  

    Where we still have space in less modern data-centres we have set up a carbon offsetting scheme which is available to all customers. It's not perfect, and in the long-term we will probably look for a more robust solution, but it works for now.

    We've also switched to EON Easy Green tariff for all non data centre power usage corporate wide and have strict green policies within our business.
  • HOSTSEARCH: In the press release you sent out for this you suggested that you work with a data center that is powered by electricity generated by burning wood chips and fiber cubes made from used paper and cardboard. How is that going to reduce carbon emissions? Surely burning wood and paper puts carbon into the atmosphere?
    JAMES CARNIE: Combustion of organic material will almost always release CO2, however it is the amount of time that carbon is released into the atmosphere then captured by a CO2 sink that is the key.  Wood chips and fibre cubes will be sourced from waste materials and by-products from the timber industry.  The timber industry uses sustainable forestry techniques where fast growing timber is continually replaced and stocks are replenished.  You can assume that CO2 absorbed in the wood chips was removed from the atmosphere within the last two decades.  It will be released again, but the stocks have already been replaced, and there is more trees and plants absorbing the CO2.
    If we look at the UK Coal measures, they were deposited around 300 million years ago, so the CO2 has been locked away for a very long time.  The replacement of coal measures, even given the correct geological condition will still take millions of years, so the cycle is extremely asymmetrical.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Now, there have been quite a few web hosts that have gone green over the last year or so, and I figure you can separate those on the bandwagon from those who mean it just by looking at their websites. Those on the bandwagon seem to fill every available millimeter of website space with words like 'green' and 'environment'. Your website on the other hand barely mentions it - in fact if I am not mistaken the site text itself doesn't mention carbon-free hosting - it's only in your press release section. Why is this?
    JAMES CARNIE: You will see some more information about our environmental policy appear on our website, but it will never take prominence over our core business. It's part of our ethos as a company to remain as jargon-free as possible and this includes eliminating unnecessary hype.

    The carbon-neutral hosting service is something we are proud of and customers are increasingly interested in this aspect of our business, but it is always going to be a peripheral consideration. Our key selling points will always be our expertise and its right they should take centre stage on our website.

    I think you're right that there are companies out there guilty of paying lip service to CSR just so they can put it on their website. There was a time when this was enough to get generate goodwill, but I think customers and the media are a lot more savvy these days.  
  • HOSTSEARCH: Have we reached a point where green initiatives are no longer newsworthy, but just run of the mill? Have green activities actually become a corporate way of life as far as hosting is concerned?
    JAMES CARNIE: As data-centres draw increasing amounts of power, their contribution to carbon-emissions now rivals that of the aviation industry, so I think the environment needs to be central to the way we do business.

    We have really only scratched the service of what is possible and there is a lot more that companies like ours can do to play their part. There's a real impetus behind green technologies at the moment and as investment continues to increase, we will see different initiatives come to the fore.

    Solar power is yet to be fully exploited and fuel cell technology is likely to have a big impact on the datacentre landscape so I think it's premature to say that green initiatives are no longer newsworthy.  We were careful to choose options that are sustainable in the long-term and continue to review our policies to make sure this remains the case.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Does green hosting make good business sense? And I don't mean down the line where if we don't do something to save the planet nobody will make money - what about right now. Does it make good business sense right now?
    JAMES CARNIE: Currently to provide green hosting costs slightly more than non-green, but that balance is changing rapidly. Ultimately economics will make the green option the only viable way. Money aside, the types of organisation we tend to deal with are expected to set an example of other companies to follow in terms of the CSR policies. The supply-chain is an important part of this and we're just beginning to find that our environmental policy is the difference between winning a contract and not getting past the first round.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Will there ever be a time when web hosting eradicates its carbon footprint?
    JAMES CARNIE: Yes, but it is a long way off.  It isn't just power generation it is all of the energy used to manufacture the fabric of the datacentre infrastructure. Creating a completely green supply chain requires a number of disparate industries to commit to green policies and follow them through effectively. Ultimately we will have to pull together as a whole in order to achieve long-lasting change, but hopefully we can do our bit to instigate change and help our customers in some small way.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Wales - is it a good place to work? Are there any particular advantages of running a hosting company in Wales? I guess you have benefits being in the European Community.
    JAMES CARNIE: The quality of life in Wales is much better than anything I was used to in London and real-estate is certainly a lot cheaper. From a business perspective, the IT industry is undergoing a sustained period of growth with support of the National Assembly for Wales and managed services are in demand. We get a lot of business in Wales and have benefited from a growing financial sector in Cardiff but our customers are based all over the UK. We have datacentres in London and the Southeast, so we're by no means restricted by geography.

    There was a tendency for skilled technicians to move away from Wales in search of the best jobs, but we're seeing more and more people coming back now and we have managed to hold on to our most highly skilled staff.
  • HOSTSEARCH: Any plans for expansion? Where will you be heading?
    JAMES CARNIE: We've doubled in size every year for the past 3 years and our aim is to continue doing that this year.  One of our main priorities for 2008 is to increase the breadth of our partner base, both at an enterprise level and among ISVs. We recently hired someone to manage our partner programme and will be developing the programme over the next six months
  • HOSTSEARCH: We ask this of everyone so we aren't just picking on you... what's going to be the next big this on the Internet and how will it impact people's lives?
    JAMES CARNIE: We're on the cusp of an enormous shift in terms of the way we watch and interact with television. The success of the BBC's iPlayer is the perfect example of how the industry is changing. Less people want to be tied down to a rigid viewing schedule, and that trend will only accelerate as the 'You Tube' generation grows up and has more of an influence. It's great news for the hosting industry, but I think the television industry as we know it, particularly terrestrial broadcasters, is at a very precarious crossroads.
  • HOSTSEARCH: I guess Wales has a lot of leisure activities - what do you do when you aren't working?
    JAMES CARNIE: Wales has two great assets, beaches and mountains. I have been surfing for 17 years, and whilst the surf here is by no means perfect all the time, the winters although cold, do provide some pretty good waves.  I also like to run in the mountains, which appeals to me because it is physically tough, but also allows you to be alone with your thoughts.  However since I had children, it can be very difficult to find the time to do either.

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