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The ServInt Source

Being Candid About Being Green

Green is vital, but so is pragmatism

Right up there with “The Cloud”, Green hosting has been a heavily trafficked buzzword in our industry for nearly 3 years.

In 2008, ServInt began retrofitting its data centers and, in combination with a massive investment in reforestation projects all over the world, we became climate positive within one year. We strive to be green because we know we have to, we have a responsibility to do so as a growing business with international clientele who expect their hosting company to understand the impact it has on the world around them.

In other words, we get it and want to do our part for the right reasons.

More after the jump.


Let’s Be Honest

Like other tech related fields, our industry has not been kind to the environment. We never saw the connection between providing services on the web and the climate. Indeed, billions of people and millions of businesses worldwide ignored climate change because the damage was subtle, out of sight, and concurrently out of mind. Now we know better. We wanted to tackle this issue head-on with three goals:

  • To reduce the pollution, directly and indirectly, caused by our data centers.
  • To create more sustainable infrastructure.
  • To, in conjunction with the above, reduce our industry’s contribution to climate change.

In recent months there have been numerous companies who have been focusing on the competitive advantages of an entirely green operation. We think that’s great, and we welcome the competition. It keeps us on our toes and challenges us to better streamline our efforts to combat climate change.

However, another side of this debate has popped up that has turned ugly fast. A few firms have been vocally calling out popular eco-oriented websites for hosting with companies that they (the host) deemed to be damaging to the environment. Some of these companies are making what are at best mean-spirited out of context accusations and at worst outright lies about companies like ours.

ServInt has a great reputation in this industry because we focus on the experience of our customers, not the shortcomings of our competitors. We have a lot of friends who we also compete with, and we’ve even come to the defense of competitors in the past when the situation called for it. We especially NEVER publicly talk down on a competitor unless we feel that they are actively harming our industry. But very few people want to talk about this issue when their businesses are not 100% “green”, so allow me.


Just the facts ma’am

Lets parse a few of the arguments these companies are making (and please feel free to challenge me in the comments):

“[Insert company here] is a fossil fuel host because they have data centers in major cities.”

This is an interesting (read: dumb) argument that I haven’t heard before. The argument I think they’re making here is that companies such as ServInt have data centers in large urban areas which presumably use the traditional power grid. These power grids typically generate energy through environmentally damaging means, so their argument says that hosting with such a company could classify you as being part of the problem.

Without delving into the thousands of asterisks associated with this idea, let’s focus on the actual business decisions that dictate why ServInt, and thousands of other hosts, choose to build and lease data centers in urban areas.

The vast majority of the world’s premium bandwidth sits in these urban areas. As an Enterprise-class host, it’s completely unacceptable to build our entire business on second tier connections. It’s also not logical to tear down a building in the heart of a major city just to build a LEED certified data center in every situation.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (LEED) is arguably the best and most comprehensive green building standard in the world. However, LEED is a point-based system and doesn’t necessarily take environmental impact into consideration in every case. While there are plenty of initiatives that are aiming to change this, LEED isn’t perfect.  For example, points can be earned for installing showers and changing rooms in a building. While that would be a legitimate boon for a company that urged walking and biking to work…it could also mean LEED points and tax breaks for an executives-only gym.

The true environmental impact of the construction, the effect on local traffic, and the reengineering of the power grid all have to be taken into consideration when building a data center anywhere. The LEED process minimizes many of those concerns, but not all.

Finally, the term “fossil-fuel host” is misleading, we are not throwing coal into a furnace or using gasoline to power our servers. The Sierra Club’s National Headquarters are in San Francisco, and National Geographic’s Headquarters are in Washington, D.C., yet no one would ever consider either of these two great organizations part of the problem.

“We are better because we build our own data centers, use solar power, and liquid cooling.”

Building private data centers is an important part of any successful, medium to large-scale host’s business strategy. Construction and fiber connections still need to be taken into account when all of your data centers are located outside of major metropolitan areas.

It’s very nice that you have a solar powered, liquid-cooled data center. But how did you get the fiber connection to your facility? Were the utility workers riding bicycles? Do you have environmentally friendly engineering in place to ensure uptime?

What about your redundancy? Are the batteries you’re presumably using at night environmentally sound as well? What about backup power, are your backup generators running on environmentally friendly energy sources? How effective are all of these redundancies for companies who absolutely require constant uptime?

“Carbon offsets, environmental investment, and reforestation investments are not a solution.”

We completely agree. Carbon offsets need to be properly vetted to make sure that monies are being utilized efficiently, honestly, and where they are actually needed. They are an imperfect band-aid on the long road to a solution.

However, investing in more energy efficient equipment, optimizing and deploying virtualized product lines in favor of traditional dedicated products, and planting trees are absolutely beneficial. These are things we can do NOW, with hard work, energy, and investment.

ServInt recently completed it’s 2009 reforestation goal, and since starting the program not too long ago we’ve planted more than 12,000 trees all while continually improving the efficiency of our network infrastructure. Because of these initiatives, our entire VPS and SuperVPS line are climate-positive.

But we know that isn’t enough. We know more needs to be done. Photoshopping a leaf onto your logo doesn’t automatically change who you are as a company.

That’s why we strive to share what we’ve learned with the hosting industry, including some of our competitors who aren’t as far along. Last year, ServInt COO Christian Dawson spoke at HostingCon on this very topic with the hopes of minimizing the initial sticker shock that prevents hundreds of otherwise socially conscious hosts from taking the plunge. We’ll continue to be a player in an open, honest debate over how best to combat climate change in our industry and we welcome insight, challenges, and debates.

Let us know what you think in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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