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Is Your Web Server Green?

17 March, 2008 (14:49) | Life | By: Nick Dalton

Since it is S:t Patrick’s Day today, I thought I’d go with a green theme post.

Is was shopping for a new web host recently and I came across several companies offering “green” servers. I wondered if that was just Greenwashing, or if it’s a real benefit.

“Green” is of course a poorly defined term. The manufacturing of computers is a very toxic business. (Tangent: Cringely had an interesting column on how all our electronics are going to fail now that lead has been removed from the solder that holds electronic components together.) But for this post I’m going to focus on “green” as it relates to keeping a server running, i.e. reducing the amount of energy required.

Moore’s Law is an observation that computer processors become twice as fast and half as large every two years. One of the main challenges for chip designers to keep making chips faster and smaller is heat: the faster a processor runs the more heat it generates, and the smaller the chip is the more concentrated the heat is. This is why we have heat sinks and cooling fans on processor chips.

One way to reduce the amount of heat generated is to make the processor work less. This may sound like a pat answer, but when you think about it most processors probably spend most of their time just spinning cycles. For example, right now while I’m thinking about the next sentence I’m about to write, my computer could just as well take a micro-nap. Even between key strokes there is plenty of time for a processor to take nano-naps.

Chances are that your web server is not doing all that much most of the time. Even if you have 10,000 page views per day, most of the time the server is just waiting for the next incoming request. If you have a really large site with multiple servers to handle peak loads, that probably means whole servers are being underutilized at, say, 2 a.m. Several of the Fortune 500 companies I’ve consulted for had disaster recovery sites on “hot standby” (i.e. servers running, ready to go, but not actively doing anything) just in case a disaster would strike their primary hosting facility. Talk about energy waste.

A good way to approximate turning off your server between page requests is to use shared or virtual hosting instead of a dedicated server. On these hosting plans many web sites share the same physical server and it’s unlikely that all web sites are going to see a burst of activity at exactly the same time.

Green Web Hosting?

Since the web hosting company has to pay for the energy required to power all the servers in their data center, as well as the cost to keep them cool, you would think that it’s in their best interest to purchase the most energy efficient computers available. Unlike food, where green/organic can be more expensive to produce, web hosting services that are green should be cheaper.

But instead of using low cost in their marketing, green web hosting companies have gone a couple of steps further: some data centers are run entirely on wind or solar energy, some will purchase carbon emission offsets on your behalf to offset the pollution your server creates, others will plant trees on your behalf. Next time you’re looking for web hosting, take a look at the green alternatives.

How green is your web site?

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