Milieudefensie has been demonstrating practical environmentally conscious actions for years and has been in the news a lot recently due to climate cases against Shell. Now, they are focusing on the 'fair transition,' aiming to achieve sustainable energy and open information through a large group of 'power of change' volunteers across the country. They recently began migrating a part of their servers to Leafcloud. We spoke with Machiel van Veen, system administrator of Milieudefensie, about choosing ethical and sustainable IT services, transitioning to Leafcloud, and what to consider when selecting a cloud provider.
As the IT team, are you responsible for the laptops, hardware, digital automation, email, etc., used by Milieudefensie staff?
"Yes, Milieudefensie has about 100 employees. As a system administrator, I am part of a small team within the support department responsible for everything needed for work—laptops, desktops, various servers, databases, websites, and email. From campaign perspectives, we're deeply concerned about the environment, not just from support services. We're constantly seeking energy-saving measures, recycling solutions, and even small changes, like recently switching to organic coffee in the vending machines. With IT, we're not just aiming for a computer that works for employees, but we also look for societal benefits. Choosing a sustainable alternative is almost always possible."
Why do you want to transition to the Cloud?
"We currently host almost everything internally on-premise, meaning all servers are within the building. This is highly energy-inefficient. For security reasons, we previously opted to keep them internally. We're likely relocating in a few years. We considered placing the servers in a new location, but it's uncertain how it will turn out. Moving to a regular data center with green energy was an option, or to a Cloud provider. Initially, this was dismissed because, in almost all cases, you deal with American entities. However, alternatives have emerged."
What were the main reasons for choosing Leafcloud, and did you consider other green open-source Cloud providers?
"We're currently with a provider using green energy. In reality, no other provider does more than that. It's amusing that I was initially highly skeptical about Leafcloud, but after the first conversation, I was convinced. It's clearly a great environmental solution. Your idea aligns perfectly. Leafcloud, to our knowledge, is the only one that, besides using green energy, utilizes the heat from servers rather than releasing it into the air. That's crucial. Regarding security, it's essential that it's a company we can trust. We're in close proximity to the people managing the equipment. They're not in the US, so we're not subject to US legislation. It's also important that the base is open-source. If Leafcloud offered the green aspect but ran everything on, for instance, Windows servers, it wouldn't have worked. It's worth mentioning that Milieudefensie has been running almost all systems on open-source since 2006. It's based on our principles of a fair transition, which isn't possible without transparency, not just in IT but across all organizational models and information flows."
"If you're choosing green and fair now, you're working on your future."
Machiel van Veen, system administrator of Milieudefensie
Which servers and services are finding a new home at Leafcloud, how did you determine that, and how did you approach it?
"We operate a virtual cluster with dozens of servers, so our environment is quite complex. We're starting by migrating external web servers and supporting servers to Leafcloud. Simultaneously, we're setting up a process to easily deploy servers on Leafcloud's infrastructure, which is almost complete. Subsequently, when everyone agrees on a complete transition, we'll gradually move server by server. This aligns with transitioning from a file server-desktop environment to a laptop-Cloud environment. We're concurrently making that transition, so it's a fluid process. We currently have an old-fashioned file server and the new trendy Cloud. Now, everything needs to move to the trendy Cloud, especially the green trendy Cloud."
What approach did you choose to move the workloads?
"In theory, you could directly transfer them, but that causes various odd client issues because it's moving from a Proxmox environment to Openstack. Some things work slightly differently in Openstack, which leads to surprises. For instance, when expanding disks, the standard setup doesn't have 'Logical Volume Manager' on the images, as it doesn't traverse the underlying systems. I was used to dynamically increasing disk size, but it doesn't work the same way. We found a solution to make it functionally feasible. We took the 20GiB base image from Leafcloud, attached a disk, set up an LVM, and that can be expanded. It's the safest and easiest way. You could expand the image yourself, but it's technically not recommended due to potential data loss. It's solvable with snapshots and rollbacks, but if it's avoidable..."
How is the collaboration with Leafcloud going?
"The collaboration is quite smooth now because Leafcloud is still a relatively small entity. It's through quick exchanges in chat. It's (still) not a typical customer-supplier relationship but more of a collaboration. It's because we strengthen each other with new ideas. As a customer, we might suggest a service that Leafcloud hadn't considered, since it wasn't brought up before. We find that beneficial; it's mutual reinforcement. There are a few upcoming features that are essential, like IPV6, 2Factor Authentication, and Object Storage. They are in progress, but they aren't showstoppers. Overall, it's quite uneventful, and that's good."
"(Leafcloud) is clearly a great environmental solution."
Machiel van Veen, system administrator of Milieudefensie
You came from on-premise, where about 85% of companies also use on-premise or collocations. Is Leafcloud a good technical choice for companies migrating from on-premise to the Cloud compared to other providers?
"Yes, technically speaking. I can only speak from a Linux environment perspective, but it's relatively straightforward. Migrating from Amazon or Google causes more hassle and effort than an Openstack provider. It's more straightforward, with a clear cost structure. Dealing with companies like Amazon can be a real challenge; you might need a consultant to understand their system properly. With Openstack, if you know open-source technology, it's easy because it's built upon that. It complements each other, no peculiarities. They're all common, well-known technologies. You can move your Docker stuff or Virtual Machines there. If your infrastructure is ready, you can integrate Leafcloud, configure it, and use it as one of the places for your service. You can gradually transition each piece to the new Cloud."
What tips would you give other companies when choosing a Cloud solution?
"Consider what works for your company and your industry in the long term. How will it look if you're using hosting from a provider that doesn't prioritize the environment? Not just for society as a whole but also in terms of legislation. Will that still be acceptable, or would you need to panic-shift to a green provider? So, look to the long term, observe the direction society is heading, and evaluate if your business can function similarly."
Is Leafcloud an equivalent choice to the major players?
"If you're deeply entrenched in, for example, the Amazon ecosystem, you're somewhat trapped there. It's not an insurmountable leap, but you have to be ready to transition to Openstack and abandon investments in the Amazon ecosystem, which can be challenging to escape. I consciously choose to work for an organization that doesn't use Amazon because then I'd have to become an Amazon expert, and that's not what I want. I aim to be a broad, open expert. If you're already using Openstack or a similar open-source solution, it's even better."
So, as a growing business, you must consider whether to opt for the major players that are known today or to choose green now because, in the long run, it offers more future perspective?
"Yes, that's why Milieudefensie has been fully open-source for so long, to serve as an example and demonstrate that it's possible. That as an organization, you can function perfectly on it. And in Leafcloud's case, the same applies to green technology. We can convey that and look our members in the eye. We show that things can be different, 'we walk the talk,' as they say. If you don't choose green and honest, you're directly contributing to your own downfall. If you choose green and honest now, you're working toward your future. That's the difference. Ultimately, that's what it boils down to. It might take 10, 20, or 100 years, but that day will come naturally if you continue on this path."
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