Amongst the myriad of terms given to different types of web hosting, Green Hosting is the one that probably generates the most curiosity. As the name implies, it is web hosting that addresses environmental issues. And 'therein lies the rub', as they say. How can an activity that requires massive amounts of energy to maintain premises at icy temperatures in even the hottest of countries ever be considered 'green'?
Why is web hosting such a problem?
To consider the environmental impact of web hosting, think of an individual server. To keep even a single website operational, it has to be running on an ongoing basis, and consuming electricity as it runs. Let's imagine that all web hosting is shared web hosting - let's avoid the issues of dedicated servers, online telecommunications, storage, the cloud, etc., etc.
Some guesstimates suggest that shared servers can contain 'thousands' of websites, while other more conservative guesstimates suggest they on average hold around 800 sites. Netcraft suggested that in September of 2014, the Internet supported 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) websites. Divide that by 800 and we have a need for at the very least 1,250,000 machines working day in and day out. That's a lot of electricity. But of course, there are far more servers than that - Netcraft suggested in 2011 that Google alone had 900,000 servers!
Despite the energy drain of just running these servers, there is an additional problem - put more than 2 or 3 machines together in one place and they start to generate heat, enough heat to cause damage to themselves and their immediate environment. So they have to be cooled - in the icy temperatures outlined above.
So how is it possible for web hosting to the 'green'?
Surely, web hosting must be one of the most wasteful industries on the planet? Well, if not it was getting close, and a few years ago there was a significant period of introspection within the industry at the end of which people starting asking just what could be done to stop web hosting being such a drain on the planet. What people came up with showed that ingenuity and innovation are far from dead.
Of course, web hosts first looked at the equipment they used and established how it could be managed more efficiently. Measures like sealing the data center environments properly, and optimizing air flow paid benefits, as did proper rack, air conditioner and cable management. In addition, a wealth of cooling system technologies evolved increased air conditioning system efficiency, as did prioritizing what needed to be cooled and positioning air conditioning correctly.
With all that hardware ticking away on a daily basis, it is inevitable that hardware needs to be replaced on a regular basis - and that means disposing of old machines which might contain toxic substances. Green Hosts ensure that equipment is recycled and that which is too difficult to recycle is disposed of effectively.
Other web hosts got creative with location. Data centers have been built underground in old nuclear shelters and in caves located in mountains covered with ice, each with obvious benefits as far as energy usage reduction is concerned.
Alongside efficiency, another direction Green Hosting moved towards was the use of renewable energy and away from the use of fossil fuels. Renewable energy comes from sources that can be replenished. These include sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. But let's consider for a moment a web hosting provider that is located in central London. It's hardly likely that the host can get planning permission to throw up a windmill, unlikely there is a geezer nearby to tap, nor is the UK noted for consistent sunshine. Obviously, the bulk of Green Hosts are located in such environs and so they had to come up with an innovative solution to win the 'green' label.
Renewable Energy Certificates
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are the solution for web hosts stranded in urbanenvironments who want to carry the 'green' flag. Essentially, RECs are certificates that indicate that a certain number of megawatt-hours of electricity have been generated somewhere in the world using renewable energy. This energy is not used by the host. It is used by a third-party. So, if a host purchases 100 hours of renewable energy, this is used in another part of the world, and off-sets the energy a host uses which is generated from traditional sources, such as oil and coal. The money provided by the purchase of these certificates goes into projects that aim to eliminate pollutants in the atmosphere and help establish hydroelectricity, wind power and solar power initiatives.
How do I know if a host is 'green' or not?
The benefits of Green Hosting are obvious and the impact long lasting. Green Hosting is no longer on the periphery, saving energy has become key to the survival of the industry. Being green is now less of a PR exercise than it used to be - it has permeated the fabric of the industry to the extent that there are a range of certifications web hosts can achieve to show their green credentials. ISO 14000 is the premier environment certification for UK companies to achieve - if they have this certificate, you can be sure they are green.
ISO 14000 relates to environmental management designed to minimize how business activity impacts the environment. With ISO 14000 a company can also be seen to comply with laws and regulations that relate to the environment. Certification is achieved through a third-party audit of ISO 14000 standards. However, if you are really concerned talk to the host directly and find out what they do above and beyond the certification to save the environment.
They might be green, but are they good?
Obviously, green credentials are not your primary reason for engaging a web host, you need someone reliable, fast and available for your website to be successful. So, once you have checked they are green, talk to the web hosting community to find out if they are good. Go to the FindUKHosting.com Forum (link to forum) and ask people with experience of web hosts just who are good, and who not worth bothering with.