A British manufacturer of "green" servers is making an ambitious offer to replace companies' current hardware for free in return for the amount they will save in energy costs.

VeryPC says that its Free Green Servers initiative will help businesses reduce their server CO2 footprint by over 60%, improve their system performance and reduce operational costs. The Sheffield-based firm is inviting organisations with data centres to trade-in their existing servers for VeryPC’s energy-efficient Janus II server.

The company has a list of 150 servers that customers can trade in. These include models that are touted as some of the most efficient on the market like the Fujitsu TX120, Dell’s Energy Smart range and Sun Microsystems' Sun Fire range. All the customer has to do is pay the energy-related cost difference between the old and new servers on a monthly basis over the server’s lifetime.

Explaining how his firm got to the position to make so bold an offer, VeryPC managing director Peter Hopton says: "Imagine four environmental computer geeks looking to make a difference. We originally started up doing consulting and basically wanted to recommend more environmentally friendly products to charities and the voluntary sector and provide a more ethical service to them. So one of the things we were trying to do was lobby the large IT companies to make their products more green and when we found that was a bit of a dead end, we thought: 'Well, why don’t we make some more energy-efficient products ourselves?'."

With their backgrounds in electronic engineering, his team started out making desktop PCs. More recently, they started working with huge U.S. firm Super Micro which is most famous for its motherboards but is a massive server manufacturer in its own right.

"We’ve commissioned them to do some parts for our servers to our specification and design and so we’ve basically taken the whole concept of what a server is to pieces and rebuilt it from the basis of 'We’re going to make servers with the highest performance per Watt physically possible and we’re only going to make environmentally friendly servers'. When I say environmentally friendly, I mean servers that have zero lead content and have an extremely high processing power per Watt."

Following the VeryPC mantra of "economy, ecology, performance", the resulting Janus II servers and Lycaeus storage servers are as small as possible, have aluminium fonts panels and the like instead of non-recyclable granulated plastics, use special fan control algorithms and feature some impressive CPU usage and clock speed statistics.

"Using 50% less electricity to do the same work is a bonus for the environment, but data centre managers will have additional 'hidden' savings to look forward to such as increased capacity in their input transformers, uncompromised server speed, uninterrupted power supply capacity and support for virtualisation technologies," says Hopton.

Given the audacity of his firm's proposition, Hopton says that he is confident about his business model. Referring to the list of servers his firm will replace for free, he says: "What’s more audacious is the fact that we’ve put on there all the servers that are claimed to be the most efficient in the world."

So far, says Hopton, VeryPC has shipped "hundreds" of its AMD processor-based Janus II servers in the UK. Serious interest is now being shown from the U.S., France and Germany. But it has to be said that when it comes to green IT, Windows users do seem to be somewhat behind the curve compared to their Unix, midrange or mainframe counterparts. Indeed, with fuel prices falling after their recent stratospheric levels, it could be said that Microsoft users couldn't really care less about green IT.

"Well, indeed," agrees Hopton. "But it’s something that their bosses should care about. I think the IT manager who’s just had his capital budget slashed, that gets the opportunity to get the servers for nothing and all he has to do is go and talk to the guy that pays his electricity bill, I think he might think about doing it. And, you know what? It's actually going to be very beneficial to get those two talking. I’ve talked at many events and one of the first things I say is: 'How many people in this room pay their electricity bill for their server room?' and usually I’ll end up with one in ten at best.

"So I think trying to get those two talking is very important for the financial well being and profits of these organisations and so FDs are trying to do that or should try and do that anyway. If people understand that, then there’s going to be more money to throw around on new equipment and they are going to be a more profitable business and a more successful IT department."