10 Principles of Sustainable Virtual Design VIII – Host in the Green Cloud

This post concludes the 10 principles of Sustainable Virtual Design, and its relation, Sustainable Web Design. While this is the eight posting, we are looking at the 10th principle here, since I grouped a few of the shorter ones together. This seems a bit odd, so I’m going to come up with a few that didn’t make the original list to round out to 10. But for now, improve your sustainability by applying…

Principle #10 Host in the Green Cloud

It’s Green because: You’ll be burning greener server bits.

Your Competitive Edge: You’ll be up to specifications when green hosting becomes a legal requirement.

After the site is complete, you can get even greener by publishing to an aggressively green webhost. You’ll need to be careful, as many webhosts routinely greenwash their marketing copy. Be aware that large server farms use the energy equivalent of thousands of homes, and up to 90% of that power used may be wasted on idling servers. Just putting a solar panel on the roof, or planting a few trees doesn’t offset this.

To find a host that is truly green, check their mission statements. Look for the discussion of the following topics:

  1. Efficient server hardware (type and model)
  2. Efficient cooling systems (reduced water consumption)
  3. Green power, sourced from renewable energy sources
  4. Purchase of carbon offsets. This means that dirty energy use is offset by purchasing credits for clean energy produced elsewhere, e.g. Renewable Energy Certificates
  5. Carbon offsets by other means, like planting trees
  6. Recycling and other green practices are used in the host’s office and data center

I’ve provided a short list of some of the most popular green hosts below:

Host Location Mission Statement Comment
AISO.NET USA http://www.aiso.net/technology-network.html 100%, self-generated solar power
Canvas Dreams  USA http://www.canvasdreams.com/sustainability/wind-power.php Wind-powered, in Oregon
Green Webhost UK http://www.greenwebhost.net/mission.htm Powered by renewable utility energy or carbon-offsets
Ilisys Australia http://www.ilisys.com.au/explore/green-power/ Powered by renewable utility energy
MyGreenHost Iceland http://www.mygreenhosting.com/green-data-center.php Powered by geothermal energy
 Green Geeks  USA http://www.greengeeks.com/about/how-is-greengeeks-green.php Carbon offsets (wind)
DreamHost USA http://dreamhost.com/about-us/were-green/ Carbon offsets
HostGator USA http://www.hostgator.com/green-web-hosting.shtml Carbon offsets (wind)

When choosing a green host, it is a good idea to “buy local” and go with the service closest to your audience, since communicating a host on a different continent carries its own energy penalty.

After securing green hosting, consider moving some of your assets to a Content Delivery Network (CDN). CDNs are similar to a specialized, hyper-efficient webhosts serving commonly used files that may be shared in common by many websites. This allows the browser to download from two hosts in parallel, boosting page speed. But there’s an even bigger benefit – if several websites share the same CDN files, the libraries only need to be downloaded once to the user’s computer.

Google and Microsoft provide free CDN access for libraries, including JQuery and SWFObject, with one line of code.

<script src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.8.0/jquery.min.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

If you’re using a less popular JS library, check Cached Commons CDN, which supports hundreds of JavaScript frameworks.

For a more robust CDN that can host your locally-produced files, you’ll need to go commercial. This used to be very expensive, but new CDNs like Amazon Cloudfront will deliver a million page views per month for around $20 dollars US. In addition to caching common libraries, these networks replicate your content on multiple servers. This means your site’s data doesn’t have to jump through the entire Internet to get to a remote client, making it even greener.

You can also use a CDN for fonts. Google Webfonts are available through a CDN, as described in a recent article by lya Grigorik. As shown below, it is possible to specify a subset of the font’s glyphs for download and caching, reducing bandwidth even more.

CSS code for linking a google webfont from the google content delivery network CDN

More on the green cloud

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