What Makes a Web Host Green?

Cloud hosting can provide many benefits, one of which is the potential for minimising the impact to the environment as the demands for data storage and transfer continue to massively grow.

But what measures do cloud providers take?

Technical steps:

Technology and energy efficient are constantly improving, even if the target is to reduce business costs as much as to save environment. The upshot is that the all equipment is becoming able to perform far more with much less energy usage, and web servers are no exception.  By balancing the ability to utilise older equipment with the rate of improvements with energy efficiency, the impact of adding more servers and storage is effectively minimised.

One major benefit of cloud hosting is that it allows for the provider to locate the servers in the most efficient and environmentally-sound places. Indeed, Google has long held a patent for locating servers in ships at sea and harvesting wave energy for power whereas one of the largest ISPs in Sweden chose to turn an underground nuclear bunker into a James Bond inspired data centre.

Another is that it allows investment in areas such as more efficient cooling technology which only makes sense when you have a larger number of servers in one place. One Finnish data centre actually uses water from the server cooling system to heat local homes reducing the requirements for Helsinki’s coal power stations

Many companies, such as Apple, are increasingly committed to using solar power for their data centres, which is facilitated by having a small number of large locations and the space for enough solar panels.

Finally, not everyone needs a dedicated server, so processes such as virtualisation allow the resources to be shared in a way which benefits customers in terms of cost and processing power, but makes the most of any redundant space at a given time.

Infrastructure and People:

Many companies are encouraging initiatives such as paperless offices and the UK Government supports tax free bicycle purchases as part of the Cycle to Work scheme.  But there are other ways to cut the environmental impact such as reducing transportation of small numbers of people and equipment by careful planning.

Google even cuts down the impact of mowing the lawn around its Mountain View campus by bringing in a herd of goats to do the work!

Old equipment should be re-used and recycled, potentially being donated to charities which support computer usage in emerging countries such as Africa. Alternatively it can be made available to purchase second-hand by hardware hackers who insist on building their own servers or are looking to make interesting new projects.

Finally there’s also the prospect of offsetting carbon emissions. Interestingly Memset explain how they have moved away from the debatable benefits of sustainable forestry as an offsetting initiative to instead support a methane capture project, with methane 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

A better environment for the future:

The good news is that the cloud hosting industry is already tackling the environmental issues, led by global companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. Combined with the benefits of reducing individual servers scattered throughout businesses with less efficient infrastructure and the efficient usage of any redundant space, the initiatives to continually improve, and offset what remains, is a positive step for everyone.

Image courtesy by Phil LaCombe - http://www.flickr.com/photos/phillacombe/

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