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Where a data center draws their electrical load from, and from what kind of generation facility will determine the environmental impact of the electrical service they receive.

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We all have a responsibility as humans to be good stewards of our planet. We aren’t just on a rock hauling through space at alarming speeds, we are members of an ecosystem that needs our help to maintain homeostasis. Many of us recycle, watch our consumption, and generally try to have a positive impact on our ecosystem, but the vast majority of company leadership doesn’t give much thought to the environmental impact that our data has on the world. Application hosting and technical operations have a huge environmental impact that is not always ‘top of mind’ to regular people, or technology professionals.

Environmental Impact Of Datacenters

For those who are reading this who don’t have a deep technological background, let’s take a 10,000-foot view of what makes the cloud run.

The cloud is just somebody else’s computer. That computer is located in a facility called a Data Center, or a Hosting Center, or Network Operations Center. There are many names for this facility, but they all have common traits. A data center has rows and rows of servers, networking hardware, and power distribution. To feed your farm of servers, you need a few things; You need electricity, connectivity, and cooling.

Electrical Demand Of Servers In A Datacenter

According to (https://www.zdnet.com/article/toolkit-calculate-datacenter-server-power-usage/ “Toolkit: Calculate datacenter server power usage”), a single server in a rack draws an average of 850 watts per hour. Multiply that over hundreds of servers, and you’ll see that a data center, just from the servers alone, commands a respectable load on the electrical grid. Factor in cooling, and that load jumps up considerably. That is just the electrical draw.

Where a data center draws their electrical load from, and from what kind of generation facility will determine the environmental impact of the electrical service they receive. If the facility is drawing from mostly coal power… Your application, while being hosted in that data center, will be more polluting than a facility that gets its energy from renewables.

Environmental Impact Of Cooling Systems In Data Centers

It is important to think about cooling, and how industrial-scale HVAC systems like those used in data centers work. Cooling draws a ton of electricity, but there is another important byproduct to consider, and that is the disposition of excess heat. To cool air, you have to exchange heat. Cool air is not created out of nowhere, and the process of cooling air down generates a ton of heat. That heat is belched back into the atmosphere. That’s one of the reasons that major cities are often quite a bit hotter during the summer months - and part of that reason is the excess heat that is discharged into the atmosphere by way of roof-top exchangers.

Waste heat collection is a key challenge that faces designers of data centers today, according to (https://datacenterfrontier.com/waste-heat-utilization-data-center-industry/ “Data Center Frontier”). There is a growing list of companies that are trying out innovative ways to tackle this challenge. Facebook is recycling waste heat to provide heat to homes in Denmark, which is a massive but innovative undertaking.

In short, heat as a waste product has a huge environmental impact.

Environmental Considerations Of Upstream Bandwidth Providers

Data centers need bandwidth to connect to the internet itself. To do this, they need to connect to a network operations center at an internet service provider… Which is another data center. All the same, items that we have mentioned previously all apply to upstream providers. Some bandwidth providers are starting to take environmental impact seriously, but the vast majority of them have a way to go.

This is an important thing to consider when thinking about the carbon footprint of your application. While you don’t have much of a choice when it comes to peering providers that sell bandwidth to data centers, this is a worthwhile question to ask when you are shopping around if you want to reduce your application’s or operation’s carbon footprint as much as humanly possible.

What DevOps Hosting Companies Are Environmentally Friendly?

Now that we have explored the impact areas of hosting data in the cloud, we have to address the next challenge, which is this: not all hosting companies are DevOps friendly. There are tens of thousands of hosting companies out there that will host a simple website but are not flexible enough for the needs of modern application development teams. For this article, we will list the environmentally friendly companies, that are also DevOps friendly. We are defining “DevOps Friendly” with the following criteria:

  • Compute resources need to be scalable
  • Must allow for IaC (infrastructure as code) options for provisioning resources
  • Must have multiple availability zones or regions
  • Can run Kubernetes as a self-managed option, or provider-managed

Here is the list:

InMotion Hosting

InMotion opened a green data center in Los Angeles, California that uses outside air cooling technology that operates differently than traditional air conditioning to save cooling costs by 70% and reduces carbon output by 2,000 tons per year. Read more from (https://www.inmotionhosting.com/meet-us/go-green “InMotion here”) about their green initiatives.

A2 Hosting

A2 partnered with carbonfund.org in 2007 to offset their CO2 emissions. Here are some things that A2 does to be environmentally conscious:

  • Recycling old servers - They use their retired hardware as internal servers for their internal groupware and back-office operations, or as dedicated servers for clients that have lower resource needs.
  • Use of Solid State Drives and NVMe - Solid-state and NVMe storage use far less power than traditional hard drives. Traditional hard drives have motors and moving mechanical parts that draw a lot of energy. Solid-state storage has no moving parts at all, and as such, they perform better and draw less electricity.
  • Planting trees - As a company, A2 plants trees through carbonfund.org. Trees take carbon out of the atmosphere and provide habitats for wildlife.

You can read more about (https://www.a2hosting.com/green-hosting “A2’s green initiatives here”).

Google

This list would not be complete without mentioning what Google is doing with the data centers. Google Cloud Platform is one of the greenest choices for DevOps hosting. Fun fact, Google invented Kubernetes, as such, they are an integral player in the DevOps space.

Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and expects to be carbon zero by 2030, which is an ambitious but achievable goal. Here are some of the things that Google does to reduce its environmental impact:

  • Circular Economy - Google recycles their hardware, refurbishes servers, and generally strives to minimize their technical waste. Google recycles everything in the data center.
  • Supplier Responsibility - Google makes sure that the sources for their hardware are above board and using sustainable environmental and business practices
  • Renewable Power - Google uses renewable power in most of its facilities. If they are not generating their own renewable energy, they buy from upstream providers that use renewables.

Read more about (https://cloud.google.com/blog/topics/inside-google-cloud/announcing-round-the-clock-clean-energy-for-cloud “Google’s green initiatives here”).

Digital Ocean

DO is uses green power everywhere they can. There are a few regions where they are not using green energy, those regions are NYC, SFO, and Bangalore. Everywhere else they are using green energy in some form or another. There is a table that can be found (https://www.digitalocean.com/community/questions/what-kind-of-electricity-do-you-run-on “here”) that someone posted on DO’s forums.

Conclusion

While this is not an exhaustive list, this should be enough to arm you with knowledge so you can ask these questions of your hosting provider when you are shopping around for a place to host your application.