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back to article How I built a zero energy cost, zero carbon home server

How do you make the electricity bill for your home computing disappear? I decided to try to find out. Historically computer kit had been responsible for about 90 per cent of our electricity bill at my home office for my ISP and consultancy business. I ran one of the UK’s first ISPs, and even in my new, smaller home, I was …

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Anonymous Coward

Delayed commit on write.

Try mounting that ext3 partition with barrier=1 .

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QNAP TS-119

The QNAP TS-119 is a nice aluminium box with the same CPU as the sheeva plug, but with space for a SATA disk. Mine runs Debian and has a 64 GB SSD. It's a bit more pricey, but it feels a lot more solid and is faster than using USB flash drives (which I did before on an NSLU2).

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Sheevaplug melt

Sheevaplugs are brilliant..........but their power units aren't.

Here's a picture of the replacement of the power unit sent me 6 months after the original burnt out.

http://plugcomputer.org/plugforum/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=1428.0;attach=1732;image

I'm running a external power unit now. Many "usb 1-1: disconnect" or "I/O error" are actually because the power pack is melting. Maybe I was unlucky, but there are melty pictures of the power units all over the place.

I'd buy another if this one was smashed by my daughter or something, but I'd be waiting for the power unit to fail.

Until the power unit issues are solved, it's not ready to be Eben's FreedomBox. ;-)

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Same here

You are not alone, my Sheevaplug burnt out as well and I had nothing hanging off the USB port.

Replacement AC/DC cost me 15 pounds including shipping :(

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Anonymous Coward

JamVM

Did you look at JamVM as a JVM? I haven't had a proper play with this yet, but it's supposed to work on ARM and looks like a very low resource VM - and it will run Tomcat.

http://jamvm.sourceforge.net

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Jobs Halo

Mac mini

For those like me who could not do all the techy stuff, a low power but expensive Intel solution is Mac mini. which uses less than 10w when idle.

In passing I can never understand why the idea of saving electricity seems to offend some commentators so much.

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Silver badge

"I can never understand why the idea of saving electricity..."

Agree entirely. In the UK 1 W..year ~~ £1

I too shifted to a dual core atom when they became available for my file/print/misc server

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@ Lee Dowling/Eh?

Exactly. Why not re-use a 2nd hand laptop? If a UPS is available, the laptop doesn't even need a working battery, which makes it dirt cheap on the 2nd hand market. Otherwise there are plenty of obsolescent and/or partly broken laptops around, many of the broken ones are still more than capable of doing stuff like this (eg add keyboard or monitor) rather than going to landfill (or maybe China/Africa for metal reclamation).

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@AC, "full-blown servers"

No, he's running a veeeery slow server for something which doesn't have to handle more than a half-dozen hits a minute. This is not by any stretch of the imagination a "full-blown server".

It's a neat bit of work, sure. But like a Scrapheap Challenge vehicle (or like Samuel Johnson's dancing dog), the wonder is that it does it at all, not that it does it well. Which it appears it doesn't (because it falls over regularly), even before you start looking at the performance figures.

If you really want to save leccy, hand your hosting over to a hosting company. Sure it'll be running on some full-fat server, but that full-fat server will also be hosting hundreds of other websites. Even if you all changed to using Sheevas, overall the one server will almost certainly be using less power.

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@Graham Bartlett, "full blown servers"

Sheevaplugs aren't that slow. I benchmarked one with nbench as about equivalent to an AMD Athlon running at 1GHz (integer only; there is no FPU). Figures here: http://www.cowlark.com/2009-04-15-sheevaplug/

I run my personal website off one. Last year I got reddit'd, and got a traffic spike: on average about 50 hits per minute for a day (unfortunately I don't keep enough logs to know what the peak traffic was). I use lighttpd and the winstone servlet container; even using the crappy OpenJDK interpreted Java engine, it ran without a wobble.

I wouldn't want to run PHP or apache on one, but for certain classes of problem and the right setup they really shine.

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veeeery

Interesting point about the full fat server. The sheeva takes about 4 watts, and can host several websites - less than 1W per site. If the full-fat server can do better than that, its far from obvious.

Web servers don't need mongo-power. The sheevaplug can serve pages fast enough to survive a slashdotting, apparently. My own sheeva-based blog loads faster than The Register front page, according to pingdom measurements.

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Silver badge

You forget

that a single core Xeon with 512 MB memory was considered a full-blown server not so many years ago. I think a key lesson is that tweaking the apps allows much more efficient memory use. Programmers (embedded systems' guys excepted) have become lazy about memory use, due to its low cost. This is why we need the equivalent specs of a Cray Y-MP to run the latest incarnation of Office (check the recommended system specs).

As Niklaus Wirth said: "Software is getting slower faster than hardware is getting faster"

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retail sheevaplug

These are sold to end users as "TonidoPlug" and are available in U.S. from codelathe.com

I'm not related to them - just a satisfied customer.

There may well be other vendors but this is the one I found. Nice system.

BTW the "PogoPlug" is somewhat similar but has less memory (128 instead of 512, I think). You can get it for a bit less but I prefer the additional memory.

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Anonymous Coward

Chumby one

I've been using a VIA 600MHz mini-ITX board as a home server for a while now powered by a modded ATX PSU. It boots from USB flash and has a 2.5" disk for bulk storage and consumes about 10W when idle.

I decided to try something a little bit different and got a Chumby one. It's power consumption in its quiescent state is actually less than the USB hub plugged into it and it tops out at about 3W. It's a slight step down in terms of performance though: only a 450MHz CPU and 64M of RAM as opposed to the 256M I have currently. It boots from removable TransFlash though which is a definite win over a WRT.

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Paris Hilton

Awesome

I will be referring every comment about a lack of IT content in any other Reg article to this one

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Linux

ARM Servers

Aren't ARM thinking that you can create a fairly cold, high density sever farm using their architecture? They would make x86 blades look ludicrously over spec'd.

I know Marvell are doing wonders with their ARM chips, but AMD could make a killing against Intel if they could churn out a cold ARM based server platform.

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Bronze badge

Now all we need...

Is huge data storage that runs on thin air. Right now I have about 7-8TB running in a large server case consuming far too much for my liking.

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FAIL

Is it me?

"I became so worried about using a little electricity that, I continued to contribute to over-population"...

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FAIL

Excellent point

The biggest contribution *anyone* can make to climate change is to avoid getting yourself, or anyone else (delete as appropriate) up the spout. Anything else is pissing in the ocean.

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FAIL

Genes

I'd far rather high quality genes were perpetuated than genes from welfare "breeders"... which appears to be the direction we're currently going in when chavs and chavettes get paid to pop sprogs out while everyone else has to hold down a good paying job and wait stupidly long before popping out their one and most likely only child...

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Coat

But...

Will it play Crysis?

<runs>

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Silver badge

can we have

an icon for that?

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Go

Ointment and Flies

Too bad it'll take him 117 years, at current recovery rates and costs, to reach that point where the cost benefit of his investments are positive. It'll take that long for him to reach that break-even point considering ALL his costs. Too bad most people have actual jobs that don't allow for such experimentation. Or have no job at all in some cases. Nice try though; IT angle or no.

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Pushing the limit of what is possible

is always the primary aim of experimentation. Not monetary gain. The initial step from servers to laptop does seem to pay off quickly, the further electricity savings maybe not.

Having said that, a bookkeepers mentality has rarely been the key driving force in discovery.

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Anonymous Coward

Jeeee...

....sus....

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Unhappy

The solution is broken..

... as the guy admits.

It needs repeated fettling to deal with the flakey drivers that cause it to lose data on the USB-attached storage. So it's fine - as long as you don't mind losing data, and it won't stay up very long.

In what sense is that "stable"?

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Happy

Is the author's dad

called Adam by any chance?

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Anonymous Coward

Good guess.

The name's a bit of a giveaway isn't it?

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FAIL

Just plugging it into the wall would save most of the £1000 electricity bill

Plug the server into the wall for almost the same saving I'm guessing. No solar power needed.

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I love stuff like this

Ah Linux the grown mans meccano

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I considered a Sheevaplug...

...but in the end, I went for a Dockstar. It's a Western Digital jobby and it cost me £35 new. It runs my Squeezebox server beautifully - cheaper than the old Dell that I used to use!

This is the guy who did the real work - I just followed his instructions.

http://squeezeplug.de

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Silver badge

unBah!

Impressive. Crisps for you.

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E 2

The man is a genius.

"One unfortunate detail is that the Sheeva came with Ubuntu 9..."

Hear! Hear!

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I've always liked software-related low-power projects...

Good job on the server; I've recently upgraded my home server and my media center to Atom boxes, from standard desktops. Same specs, cheaper hardware, and a whole lot smaller current drain!

Now, I'm assuming this is connected via Ethernet... I've always wondered if it would be possible to set up a (very minimal) web server on nothing but a chip and a wire... I know the web server side is possible (someone built a webserver on a PIC processor, if you can do that you can put one anywhere), but what would be really cool is if you could run it purely off leech current - just leech it out of the Ethernet directly. Not to be confused with power-over-ethernet, obviously. Hmm... what's the max leakage current allowed on Ethernet?

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Bronze badge

My turn!

I used to run my home server on a Via C7. Unlike all you hackheads I run Win2008 and Exchange 2007 forced an upgrade to a Athlon 64 laptop chip, *overclocked* to 2.1GHz (though it spends idle time at just over 1Ghz of course).

The mobo is a standard MSI PC board, 4GB RAM, 2 x 250GB 2.5" drives in a RAID1, all unecessary gubbins switched off. Appswise it runs as an internal DC, DNS, DHCP, Exchange with Outlook Web Access, uTorrent, fileshares, and a Tor relay 'cos I'm a sharing soul. It also runs a web proxy which uses some of the RAM for it's cache.

The CPU has a fuck-off big cooler designed for a gaming box so it runs passive. SpeedFan reports the CPU temp as around 20' in the summer, around 16' in the winter!

Overall power consumption is in the low 40s, up to the 50s when pushed. Slightly worse than the old Via, but it does a lot more, a lot better.

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Happy

Fit-PC 1

I've been running two Fit-PC 1s for network services on my SOHO network for several years. The only reason for two is that one is the firewall, the other provides everything else (including amanda backup to a 1 TB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex), and (being paranoid) I wanted those functions separate.

The Fit-PC 1 is clearly underpowered compared to more recent small machines, and I would not recommend them to the author of the article for his application (if you can still get them). But they are solid reliable machines, well worth the price. They consume ~5 watts max each (my measurement).

I would suggest the Fit-PC 2, though.

The Fit-PC 2 should run from automotive 12 volt power. Folks using PV can bypass the inverter and wall wart to power them. That saves you those inefficiencies.

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Fit-PC

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FAIL

Nice...

It sounds like you had a ridiculously over the top setup to begin with if you could feasibly downsize to a laptop then a Sheeva Plug.

Interesting enough read for the home user though but then again most home users don't have a server farm in their spare bedroom...

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Bronze badge
Stop

What happened when the sun went down?

You were trickle charging big leisure batteries during the day I hope...

This article has implications for those of us who want to go off grid in mobile homes, caravans, tents and boats...

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Anonymous Coward

Title...

"How I built a zero energy cost, zero carbon home server" - you didn't, on both counts.

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Go

WD MyBook World

I dont know the Western Digital MyBook World hasnt been mentioned.

Its a Linux based small board with a harddisk. Its preconfigured to be a file server but can be tweaked to serve web pages. Some people have even put a media server on it.

Considering 1/2 the solutions mentioned so far involve using a harddisk for mass storage, you might as well use that device. I think I picked mine up for around £110.

Thats a Linux machine, with 1TB of harddisk with network connectivity.

Ok, its not the fast machine on the planet and the RAM is low - 32MB - but for most things you dont need much.

A thought anyhow. Here is some info to what people used them for:

http://martin.hinner.info/mybook/

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