Friday, 28 December 2018

Starling Bank Hits 100% Sustainable Hosting

Starling is one of the UK’s most successful challenger banks and has been licensed and operating since July 2016. As a branchless, digital and largely paperless bank built in the cloud, in their own words "Starling Bank endeavours to protect the natural environment where it can through practising energy and resource efficiency, recycling and using sustainable waste management". Its ethics statement says the bank is committed to "the pursuit of ecological sustainability and to combating climate change".

Do they live up to that?

Starling are in the fantastic position of already having ~100% of their servers sustainably powered. They have met our goal of 100% sustainable servers by 2024. So yes - I'm impressed.

How on earth have they managed that given their cloud provider, AWS, is only 50% sustainable across their infrastructure??

It’s all about where you host!

Starling’s Infrastructure

Starling operate a backend system talking to apps on their users’ mobile phones and to third party services. Using this they provide a full current account, debit cards, direct debits, standing orders and faster payments to their customers. All of their server instances are hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and have been since day one.

Basically they’re a boring old bank but, not boringly, cloud hosted.

AWS Isn’t 100% Sustainable?!

AWS have a long term commitment to 100% sustainability for their servers but they have no date on that and since January 2018 they have achieved only 50% sustainably powered servers on average. That doesn’t sound too bad but it does mean that their fossil fuel use is growing at the same rate they are. And AWS is growing rather fast.

Nevertheless, although Starling Bank overwhelmingly run their servers on AWS they are entirely sustainably powered. How?

The good thing is, although AWS isn’t 100% sustainable overall they do have four fully carbon neutral public regions: Ireland, Frankfurt, Canada and Oregon.

Where You Host Matters

Every one of Starling’s official instances is in a sustainably-powered European region. That means all of Starling’s servers are clean or at least offset with local clean energy production.

Starling cannot be completely sure that no one in their tech team has ever used an ad-hoc test machine in another region, but the official location of choice is EU-West (Ireland) and that is where all their production servers live.

What about the future? Regulatory requirements and commercial considerations mean they’ll need to diversify into cross-cloud. They are already investigating Google Cloud for that reason. Will that bring their 100% achievement down? Fortunately not. Google Cloud is 100% sustainable across the board, so the machines they operate there, and the additional servers they will run in the future, will maintain Starling’s excellent sustainability score.

It’s Fintech! Why not London Region? 

It is interesting that although Starling is a significant player in London’s Fintech scene, they have no servers in AWS’ London region. A factor in that decision is that London is not one of AWS’s sustainable regions. 

Anne Boden, Starling's CEO, says: "It's important to us that we try to make sure that the power behind our AWS servers comes from sustainable sources."

If you want to read more about their infrastructure, I wrote a Starling Bank case study last year. If you would like to join them in making your servers more sustainable, please sign our “sustainable servers by 2024” petition and read our white paper on sustainable hosting.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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