It's Not Easy being Green

Off I go again on a search for green hosting. You know, a way to host web sites in a way that has little or no impact to the environment.

There are companies out there that offer green hosting, others that will sell you carbon offsets and yet others that have fully embraced a low environmental impact throughout their organization. On the surface, this seems like an easy proposal, simply Google the term 'green hosting' and you'll easily find what you're looking for. This couldn't be further from the truth.

Many companies that claim to offer green hosting are meerly doing so because they're using the latest in low power servers and nothing more. Some go a bit further and plant trees to offset their carbon emissions. While planting trees is a worthwhile endevour, it could take 100 years for a tree to mature enough that it will make a real difference. Finally, how are you sure that they are actually doing what they say they are doing, or just making a half hearted attempt (at best) to cash in on the public's desire to support green hosting.

What further complicates things is when the client needs a dedicated server, whether for security reasons or the scale of the web site and anticipated traffic. There seems to be a glut of hosting companies that will offer green hosting in a VPS (Virtual Private Server) or shared  environment, but much fewer that offer dedicated servers.

My client doesn't not need a high security, dedicated server, but has a need for a high bandwidth system at times, also known as burstable bandwidth. In the past, the only way to ensure that there was enough bandwidth availabale on the server was to use one that is dedicated. This has many implications, not the least of which is that you are "over buying" the server to know that you have the bandwidth when you need it. Unfortunately this means that the server is laying idle most of the time, which in turn translates to more power consumption and in turn, more carbon emmissions.

Fast forward now to 2010 and the advent of cloud computing. Essentially what this is, is a virtualized server on steroids. A hosing company configures hundreds of servers into a cluster that each take part on the computing responsibility. Onto this cluster, a virtual server is created for the client's use. The benefit is that as load on the cluster increases, the hosting company can add additional hardware and redistribute the load and when the cluster is idle, servers are taken off line. All in all this is an optimal way to provision anly what is needed and no energy is wasted on idle servers.

The concept is very similar to the SETI@Home grid computing project that started over ten years ago. This project distributes software to anyone who is interested in helping to look for extraterestrial inteligence. The software downloads datasets for analysis while the computer is idle and then uploads the data back to SETI when completed. This project has now been expanded to BOINC which provides voluntary computing to many different scientific research projects.