Carrenza, a UK-based company that designs, builds and manages hosted networks, has launched a virtualised hosting service that it claims can reduce annual data centre costs by up to 20 percent and power consumption by 60 percent.

The virtualised hosting service is known as the Utility Computing Service (UCS), and it has been designed to help businesses reduce their environmental impact by making more efficient use of virtual servers. Using UCS, four or more virtual servers can use the same hardware footprint as one traditional server. It says this allows the reduction of much of the switching and network infrastructure necessitated by duplicate networks running side-by-side in co-location.

Carrenza points out that virtualisation can offer a scalable enterprise hosting solution, which "provides businesses with the servers, service levels and resources they require to power their organisation without them needing to buy or manage a hardware platform."

Additionally, businesses can exceed the number and size of servers, the amount of storage, and the bandwidth agreed as required, without excessive economic charges and without any changes to their contract.

"UCS is about making more efficient use of space in the data centre," Sutherland told Techworld. "About 18 months ago, we looked at more efficient ways of doing hosting. At that time there was huge shortage of data centre space and it was getting more expensive. We wanted to reduce costs and reduce space, but retain the service levels."

"Virtualisation was a means to an end to maximise utilisation of the servers we were running," he said.

Carrenza don't own any data centres, but rather rents space. It uses a range of hardware and offers virtual machines with between one and eight cores using AMD or Intel x86 64-bit processors. Each virtual machine (VM) currently runs between 2GB - 16GB of RAM on either Xen or VMWare virtual platforms (virtualisation based on Microsoft Server 2008 is apparently 'arriving shortly').

Sutherland highlighted the fact that UCS is a bespoke service. "With UCS, we go through a consulting process with the client about what they need," he said. "We look at the amount of CPUs, RAM, capacity etc that the client requires and then produce a service offering to satisfy that."

"It is important to note that we are not advocating a one size fits all approach," he added. "We are not trying to squeeze everything into same box. Sometimes it is not right technology for everyone."

But it is clear that Sutherland is convinced on the benefits of virtualised hosting. "For me, the killer application of a virtualised hosting service is the scalability, because we normally built a lot of spare capacity into client platforms. For example, take a retail customer, which gets very busy at Christmas time. Their platform must be able to cope with peak demand, and then scale back down when demand is over. It is up to us to manage additional capacity needed to support those clients."

"Traditionally, customers build a system to handle a certain finite demand," he said. "With UCS, we are showing businesses that they can meet commercial objectives without bottlenecks or technology failing them."

And an industry expert was equally clear about the benefits.

"There is a real need for new data centres and space at the moment," said Nick Mayes, senior consultant at the research and consultancy firm PAC (Pierre Audoin Consultants). "This is because data centres built five or ten years ago simply do not have right power and cooling to run today's equipment."

"Customers are looking to ease their burden on their facilities by building their own facilities, or either by working with companies who can rent you space in data centre or working with companies like Carrenza who can offer a hosting service," he said.

"It is too expensive to build a modern data centre on your own, particularly for medium and tier two companies, so the hosting argument is pretty compelling," he said.

"We are seeing hosting companies increasingly adopt virtualisation technology," he added. "Virtualisation is going mainstream and concerns over security have eased."

"The Carrenza approach sounds like an interesting move, as it touches on three hot issues today: the need to replace aging infrastructure, dealing with rising energy costs, and the move towards green IT, which in many cases is driven by regulation," Mayes said.