The Green Web Hosting Movement Marches On

Green Web hosting has become a pretty common term these days, with a multitude of companies proudly taking on the description and promoting clean renewable methods of powering their data centers. Plug in the term “green Web hosting” on the Internet and an overwhelming amount of sites will display, promising technologies such as “wind powered hosting,” “solar powered servers” or “sustainable websites.” TopHosts took a closer look at this new hosting market and at what it truly takes to uphold this environmental stamp of approval.

Phil Nail, Technology Manager of Affordable Internet Services Online (AISO.net) told TopHosts that they currently stand alone within the industry as a truly green Web host. The company provides a 100% solar powered operation, their own environmentally friendly designed data center, and a redundant solar powered network, on their own land in Romoland, California.

Their steel framed data center – with no wood except for the door frames – maintains 120 solar panels on two large sets of arrays, capable of generating up to 60 kilowatts of electricity each day. Through its commitment to solar hosting, and through various other clean, renewable practices, AISO’s system eliminates the production of 19,890 pounds of Carbon Dioxide (greenhouse gas) per year, 5.9 pounds of Nitrous Oxide (NOX/smog) per year, and 0.45 pounds of Sulfur Dioxide (acid rain) per year – equivalent to planting 3.5 acres of trees per year. And all the while, Nail says AISO supplies Web hosting plans comparable in price and just as reliable as any other company out there.

Degrees of Green Hosting

But while more green hosting companies hit the scene, Nail warns most are not as environmentally committed as they appear. “We check everyday and haven’t found anybody else that actually has green power at their facility,” Nail said. “You really have to read between the lines to see what they really have and then finally you see – green credits.”

In fact, what makes the vast majority of these Web hosts green is the purchase of renewable energy credits (REC). Web hosts audit the amount of harmful greenhouse-gas producing energy they use, and then purchase RECs which fund and support the production of renewable energy across the country. This process is said to offset the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the Web host, which allow these companies to label themselves “green”, Nail explained.

According to AISO’s website, many of the so-called green Web hosts out there don’t run any environmentally friendly technologies at all, but instead buy RECs as a marketing tactic in hopes of making you think they’re helping the environment. AISO says many RECs merely go toward helping polluting power companies boost their green portfolios and meet EPA or government guidelines. “One of the things that has to change is these companies have to stop looking to traditional power and data centers. They have to buy their own buildings and land and use their own green services… and buying green credits doesn’t make your company green,” Nail said.

Green Hosting Compromise

Yet Greg Willson, an Environmental Engineer with PlanetMind.net, a green Web hosting provider, says installing solar panels or constructing wind turbines isn’t exactly a viable option for every Web host at the moment. Without more government help and subsidies, entry costs for implementing renewable technologies can be high and difficult without the proper land, location and money. Willson says purchasing RECs, while employing as many environmentally sound practices as possible, is also a significant part of the green Web hosting movement.

“If a business and employees are true in their own minds about being green and are committed… and help fund green technology they’re helping the future of the (Web hosting) industry… They’re setting the example now,” Willson said.

Wind and Solar Hosting

Planetmind works with a renewable energy retailer that promotes the development of wind energy. Electricity bills are a bit more expensive but the investment ensures that money goes directly to wind farms in the U.S.

David Hardy, also of Planetmind, thinks wind power holds a lot of potential as a source of powerful green energy, so funding it helps the cause. Yet, it remains out of reach for the average company. “Wind is tough, you really need the right location. It’s more suited for the power companies to handle,” Hardy said. “But solar isn’t out of reach at all for the average company.”

Planetmind favors solar power because it can be generated locally and because the cost to install solar panels is currently dropping. Planetmind, in the small mountain community of Nederland, Colorado, generates their own local solar power of about 250 Watts of photovoltaic – enough to power their solar hosting servers and their EcoMail service of about 1,500 accounts.

Carbon Neutral Web Hosting

Even large-scale hosting operations, like Rackspace Managed Hosting, are finding greener ways of doing business. In late 2006, Rackspace announced the UK’s first carbon neutral Web hosting service. Together with the International Tree Foundation, for every online application hosted by Rackspace that opts into the program, one tree will be planted for every server used. That equates to between 200-300 servers a month, Rackspace said, which will offset the carbon emissions produced by each customer’s hosting solution.

Jacques Greyling, managing director of Rackspace Managed Hosting stated: “Rackspace’s clients, which include everything from blue chip, multi-national enterprises to innovative start-ups, are increasingly looking at ways to minimize the negative impact they have on the environment.”

Of course, it’s not exactly green Web hosting, but the attention paid to the environment by a larger operation such as Rackspace’s reflects perhaps a promising future for ecologically aware hosting solutions.

Related Reading: See how server manufacturers and other Web hosts are using technology to save energy and money.

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