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Green Web Hosting Edit

The energy consumption of web hosting is one of the common criticisms of ecommerce. For a website to be made available to its users it has to be run on a computer called a server, which has to be turned on and cooled 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This can use huge amounts of electricity and therefore contribute to global warming. However, there are a number of measures that can be taken to reduce this effect.

Power servers with electricity generated by renewable sources Edit

The most significant measure that can be taken is to switch the source of electricity from that produced from fossil fuels to renewable sources. The advantage of this is several fold. Firstly, renewable sources are cleaner so they emit less carbon dioxide when generating electricity. They include wind turbines, solar cells (panels) and hydroelectic power stations. The second advantage is that they are renewable, meaning that by using them we will not deplete any of the earth's finite resources which may be required for critical and unexpected uses in the future. This is important for the sustainability of the human race. Non-renewable resouces include fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

Examples of organizations that offer servers powered by renewable sources Edit

Use more energy efficient servers Edit

Once the servers are powered by electricity from renewable sources, the next step is to use less electricity. This is because whilst using renewable electricity reduces the carbon footprint significantly, it does not remove it completely. By using more energy-efficient servers this smaller footprint can be reduced even further.

When you host locally, you'll pay your normal electricity rate. When you purchase hosting services from co-location providers, you'll pay for the electric circuits to handle about 80% of the maximum power your servers use, and this rate is far, far more than standard. For this reason, CPU manufacturers like AMD and Intel are focusing a great deal of effort on producing highly efficient CPUs.

Examples of energy efficient servers Edit

IBM Blade (claimed to use 60% less electricity than standard servers); due to fewer repeated elements (e.g. power supply), but these days, it is the CPU of the server that draws the most power, generally.

Consider Virtual Hosting Services or Use VPS on your Own Servers Edit

Most hosting services provide the option to have your site hosted on a server along with others, known as VPS or virtual hosting. This relatively new technology allows you to have what appears to a single dedicated server with its own RAM, drives and CPU, but which is actually shared amongst potentially many other virtual servers on the same physical hardware. Because this feature is implemented at the hardware level, no single virtual server can affect others on the machine.

If your website (or other processing task) is large enough to require multiple servers, VPS hosting is a very cost-efficient way to go, and energy efficient (assuming you utilize the machine's resources efficiently). Each virtual host can run the same or different services, even operating systems.

Virtual hosting services are often inexpensive, while providing a highly reliable service, especially compared to purchasing, running, and maintaining hardware yourself. Because resources such as power are shared, and because VPS servers use highly energy efficient CPUs, you'll use less energy.

Consider "Cloud" Computing Edit

Amazon.com offers a relatively new service called Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) as part of their Amazon Web Services (AWS) offering. EC2 is essentially virtual hosting on a massive scale. To run their main e-commerce service most people think of when they hear Amazon.com, the company needs vast storage, processing and memory from probably thousands or more servers. Further, in order that their service is reliable, much of this hardware is redundant; running and using power all the time, but not actually being used. Needless to say, this is highly inefficient.

Several years ago, Amazon started selling disk storage to customers with their S3 offering, and this allowed Amazon to utilize the excess storage capacity they had available. EC2 takes this a step further by offering virtual servers and disk storage, identical in most ways to a standard VPS hosting service. Because of the aggregation of many virtual servers, Amazon can offer high-availability and reliability to customers. Because of economies of scale, their main service can more fully utilize its resources and in then end, the model should be vastly more efficient in terms of energy consumption than hundreds of data centers with hundreds of thousands or even millions of computers. An additional benefit of EC2 is that you can, in a matter of several minutes, create new "servers" to handle load and scale. You're charged only for what you use. Overall hosting costs (not even counting equipment) are about one-half of traditional co-location hosting.

Other companies also offer cloud computing solutions similar to Amazon's.

'Offset' the remaining carbon footprint Edit

Even generated electricity from renewable sources (e.g. wind, solar, hydro) causes a small amount of carbon dioxide to be emitted. There is currently no way around this. Generating electricity in this way is still the greenest option available, but we must accept that there is a small amount of environmental degradation associated with this. So, the only option left is to mediate this degradation by 'offsetting' this. This means that the degradation will still take place, but we will attempt to balance this degradation by doing something positive for the environment. There are numerous options available, including planting trees to eventually capture the carbon emitted, and investing in new renewable energy schemes to make green energy more widely available.

Several companies will sell Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), however it's a bit of a challenge to determine how much power your hosted site uses. One site, co2stats.com offers a service that provides a good way to measure the carbon emissions associated with a site. It takes into account both the cost of running the server, but also the cost of loading the page on the end-user's computer. Site owners can add a badge to their site which users can click to see a current measurement of the estimated cost. Fees are modest ($4.99/month for small sites); total measured consumption is offset through the monthly purchase of RECs.

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