How the Green Data Center Revolution Affects Your Website
Most Internet users think of a website as existing strictly in the virtual world, however, every website requires a hosting computer, and that host computer both uses electricity and produces a lot of heat that must be dissipated.
- By John Stevens
- Mar 29, 2016
When you pay a web-hosting company to host your site, you are essentially contracting with that business to store your website's coded information on their computers and make it available to everyone in every country around the world, 24 hours a day, 365 day a year. However, your hosting company may store your website's information on its own hard drives or lease storage space from a third party. Of course, the computers the web host owns or rents are not the standard laptops and desktops that most consumers are familiar with. To the contrary, these are typically one of several hundred, or even a few thousand, dedicated hard drives accessed by large banks of servers housed in a data center at an off-site location. This site is often halfway around the world at a location the company may or may not choose to make you aware of.
It is not so much that the data center's location is top secret, as most hosting companies will tell you where their storage facilities are located and even how they operate, in most cases. However, the average website owner or programer tends to not be overly concerned about where their data is being physically stored, provided their website is available to users 24/7.
One very important aspect of data center web hosting that most consumers are not even aware of is if their website's data is being stored too far off site, it can slow down loading times as well as affect "location factoring" in Google's ranking algorithms. These are just a couple of the concerns you should have about where your website data is being stored in the real world. Besides the potential to affect loading times and ranking factors, the type of data center your hosting company uses can also affect both the cost of your hosting and your website's footprint.
Environmental Costs of Web Hosting
Most Internet users think of a website as existing strictly in the virtual world, however, every website requires a hosting computer, and that host computer both uses electricity and produces a lot of heat that must be dissipated. According to the website greenhousedata.com, the carbon footprint of just an averaged-sized data center will range from between three million and 130 million kilograms of produced CO2. This means if all the data centers in the world formed a nation, that country would be the fifth-largest consumer of energy on the planet.
All the power consumption of the hard drives and servers, not to mention the need for cooling the rooms that hold the servers, adds up fast. A 2015 survey conducted by International Data Corporation, an analysis and advisory firm specializing in information technology, indicated that, on average, 24 percent of a the annual budget of a large data center is devoted to power costs. That cost must either be directly passed on to the consumer in higher fees or indirectly, by postponing technological upgrades that may make your website run more efficiently.
What Can Be Done?
Many of the bigger data center developers and owners are putting a great deal of their research and development budgets into discovering more cost-effective and sustainable ways of powering and cooling their legions of machines. Many companies, such as Amazon Web Services, have made commitments to power their operations entirely with renewable energy, and currently Amazon is using a large solar array and three wind farms to generate power. Others companies are looking for even more creative ways of reducing their carbon footprint:
- Green Mountain, Stavanger, Norway: An 118,000-square-foot data center built in a former NATO ammunition facility, this data-storage facility relies solely on hydroelectric power and uses cold water from a nearby inlet for cooling its server rooms, with the water being recycled back into the sea.
- Google, Hamina, Finland: Housed in a former paper mill, this data center is built over an old tunnel that Google uses to bring in cold ocean water to cool the building.
- Facebook: Luleå, Sweden: Facebook built a data center in the Arctic Circle specifically to take advantage of the Nordic air. Facebook uses the cold air in cooling its center while using the heat generated by the servers to keep its offices warm. The site also uses locally generated hydropower, allowing Facebook to reduce its number of backup generators by almost one-third.
- Microsoft Under the Sea: Microsoft's Project Natick is researching the use of sustainable underwater pods to address rising costs while maintaining environmentally sustainable.
One of the issues with these new-style green data centers is, for the most part they are not what most consumers would consider to be local. Technological giants such as Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft serve customers all around the globe. These companies maintain worldwide networks of highly efficient data centers that take advantage of naturally occurring energy-saving geological features. These tech giants also have the resources and up-front investment capital to build the often-costly infrastructures that will permit them to save money in the long run. With the single exception of Amazon, none of the data centers offers robust web-hosting services. So the question remains: What are the environmental impacts of the data center that is hosting your website? Unfortunately, most web-host companies haven't gotten quite up to speed with the big boys of data storage just yet, however, some are trying.
In the coming years, as the demand for data storage continues to increase along with the concerns over carbon emissions and the cost of electrical power, consumers can expect to see many of the groundbreaking innovations now being developed by the larger green facilities being adopted by the smaller data centers. Until then, here is the scoop on some of the more popular companies providing web-host services and the environmental impact of their data centers:
- Digital Ocean: Digital Ocean has 11 data center locations around the world to facilitate its hosting services, but the data centers are not owned by the company. Rather, Digital Ocean leases server space from other data-storage companies, including Equinix-TelecityGroup, Interxion, and Telx, the latter being owned by Digital Realty Trust. In some cases, having a primary focus on data center development allows companies to work on producing more environmentally friendly operations. With these three cases, all of these data-storage companies get a large percentage of their energy from renewable sources.
- Amazon: Amazon Web Services has made a commitment to using 100 percent renewable energy in the data centers. Amazon currently produces more than 1.6 million megawatts of renewable energy from its solar- and wind-power endeavors for use in its data centers.
- OVH: OVH is the top web-hosting provider in Europe with its biggest site in Beauharnois, Canada. As with many data centers of its size, OVH is making strides toward reaching full sustainability. This includes using locally generated hydropower and natural air and water cooling to reduce or eliminate the need for traditionally powered air conditioning. OVH is designing its new buildings to create a smaller carbon footprint.
- Rackspace: Unlike much of its direct competition, Rackspace currently owns all its data-storage facilities. In their early years, Rackspace began focusing on creating sustainable, energy-efficient datacenters that were specifically designed to take advantage of forward-looking renewable energy-saving systems and cooling sources. While Rackspace may not be the leader in innovations of the green data center movement, the company's efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its 10 facilities around the world has been a consistent focus since their inception. As such, Rackspace remains on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's list of "Green-Power Partners."