French hosting company ViFiB thinks it can save on expensive data center space by placing its servers in homes and offices with broadband Internet access, putting it somewhere between cloud computing services such as Amazon Web Services and distributed computing projects such as SETI@home.
By distributing its servers across France, ViFiB hopes to avoid creating the single point of failure that a data center might become during a major power outage. ViFiB's customers will have to implement their own redundancy and security strategies on top of the servers it provides, although ViFiB will provide advice on how to do this. It should be possible to build an online service with five-nines (99.999 percent) availability, even though individual servers may only be available 99 percent of the time, according to ViFiB co-founder Jean-Paul Smets.
ViFiB will rent out a virtual machine with 1GB of RAM and 10GB of solid-state disk (SSD) storage space, running on one core of an 8-core Intel i7 860 processor, for around €8 (US$9.70) per month.
ViFiB is looking for people willing to plug two high-end PCs into their Internet connection and electricity supply. In return, ViFiB will pay up to €30 per month to subsidize the cost of the FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) Internet connection necessary to guarantee fast access.
There are a few conditions: Subscribers must have a fiber Internet connection with an IPv6 address, and must pay the electricity bill for the servers. ViFiB estimates that will come to around €10 per server per month. For the many French homes with electric heating, though, the waste heat from the servers would reduce the heating bill by a corresponding amount for around six months of the year. That makes ViFiB more environmentally friendly than most data centers, which pay for servers to heat the air, and then pay even more for air conditioners to cool it, Smets said.
So far, only one French ISP, Free.fr, offers a fiber connection meeting ViFiB's requirements. Its FTTH service costs €29.90 a month, offering download speeds of up to 100M bps (bits per second), and upload speeds, more relevant for hosting operations, of up to 50M bps.
Although the terms and conditions of Free's home Internet access forbid reselling the service, Smets doesn't see that as a problem. "We're selling computational power, not Internet access," he said, which makes the activity no different to distributed computation applications such as SETI@home.
ViFib is starting small: Last week, it had placed just a handful of its initial batch of 50 servers.
While Smets has plenty of would-be hosts, few of them have FTTH connections, he said.
Around 860,000 French homes were within reach of a fiber connection by the end of March, a number increasing by around 8 percent each quarter, according to the French telecommunications regulator. However, there were only 75,000 FTTH subscribers, compared to around 18.8 million DSL subscribers, Arcep said.
Its first customer will be TioLive, a hosted ERP company also run by Smets.
"I no longer have any faith in centralized hosting systems," he said. "With this, we can go further in terms of reliability than data centers let us today."
After France, Smets has his sights set on Japan, another country where TioLive has an office. Fiber access is faster and more common there than in France, and while data centers in Japan pay around twice as much for their electricity as those in France, prices for hosting services there are even higher, he said.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org.