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Server-Level Sustainability: Green Up Your Hosting

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Sustainable Web Design Series, Number 3

In the third post in our Sustainable Web Design series, Bryan shares four tips for improving your server-level sustainability.

We know you. You’re a responsible energy consumer. You turn off your lights and your TV when you’re not in the room. You power down your computer when you’re not using it. Did you ever think about how you might bring that energy-consciousness to your web presence? Below are four tips for decreasing the amount of power consumed by the server that hosts your website.

1. Use a Green Hosting Company.

Web servers require power 24 hours a day but renewable energy sources cannot be counted on to provide such constant power. In order for a hosting company to be powered by 100% renewable energy, they must take ownership of their electrical infrastructure. Some hosting companies, such as Aiso, CanvasDreams and WindHosting, have made that investment and generate their own electricity using wind and solar. Hosting companies like GreenGeeks and HostPapa have the same environmental bent, but choose to offset their carbon output by purchasing certified renewable energy credits instead. For more information on this topic, take a look at the second post in our Sustainable Web Design series.

2. Use a Virtual Private Server (VPS) or Shared Hosting Account

Both VPS and shared hosting accounts allow hosting companies to consolidate several of their customers onto one physical server. Less physical servers means less electricity consumed. Chances are that you’re already using a shared hosting account. Here’s an approachable explanation of the differences between VPS and shared hosting.

3. Use a Content Delivery Network (But Only If It Will Benefit Your Demographic)

The more physical distance between your site visitors and your web server, the more electricity is consumed by the servers and network switches that route traffic between them. If your visitor is in Australia and your web host is in New York, your visitor’s requests traverse data centers across the entire globe. The primary purpose of a Content Delivery Network (CDN) is to shorten the length of requests by making a copy of your content and hosting it on servers that are closer to the visitors. With a CDN in place, your Australian visitor’s request only has to travel as far as the nearest CDN location, which may be within Australia. A secondary benefit of using a CDN is the elimination of the electricity used by the data centers that route that traffic. Companies like Akamai and services like Amazon CloudFront provide CDN services in data centers around the world.

However, a CDN isn’t appropriate for every web hosting situation. A CDN wouldn’t be appropriate for your website if your site handles less than 5,000 page views a day or if the majority of your site’s visitors originate from one geographic location.

4. Use Varnish

A portion of the electricity consumed when you request a web page comes from the spinning of the disks inside the hard drive where your site’s files are stored. You can reduce your energy consumption by your web host if you can eliminate the spinning of those disks. Enter Varnish. Varnish stores a copy of your web site and serves it to visitors from memory, bypassing the need to spin the hard drive for every request.

Varnish may not be compatible with your existing web host. You’ll need to have root access to your web server. In addition, Varnish can be tricky to configure. Considering that Varnish can not only save electricity but also speed up your site by a factor of 300, you may find it in your best interest to find a host that supports it and take the time to learn to use it correctly.

How sustainable is your website? Have Ecograder give you the answer.

Mightybytes is a full-service digital agency in Chicago and a certified B Corporation. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest or fill out our contact form.