Is "Green" the Latest Web Hosting Gimmick?

I guess one of the benefits of a little experience is that you begin to be able to spot not only trends, but also cycles in the business (technically, that’s the purpose of this blog).
I don’t imagine, however, that it requires a tremendous amount of experience, or expertise, to notice the frequency with which “green” hosting comes up these days. In terms of press releases and marketing material, I would estimate that just now, I hear more about Web hosts’ “green” attributes than any other.
“Green” hosting, it seems, is well on its way to being the new Web 2.0, or software-as-a-service – the latest gimmick in the Web hosting business.
By that I mean that, like Web 2.0 or SaaS, green endeavors in the hosting business address a pressing need (the fact that data center facilities are consuming energy resources at a tremendous, and growing, rate), and admirably so. But hosts have been swept up in the green notion to the point where just about everybody in the business feels the pressure to present themselves as “green.”
One product of that mentality is that (as happened with Web 2.0 and SaaS), instead of asking “what can we do to provide our services in a more environmentally friendly way?” hosting providers are asking “how can we describe our services in an environmentally friendly light?”
Last week I received a press release from SWsoft, pointing out the energy-saving virtues of virtualization, and including a quote:
"Virtuozzo delivers the highest density available in a virtualization solution, enabling hundreds of virtual environments on a single physical server, and so it offers the greatest potential for energy savings," said Serguei Beloussov, CEO of SWsoft. "By using Virtuozzo to achieve their green computing goals, hosting providers can significantly reduce their energy usage while also realizing greater efficiency in their data center."
Just a few days earlier, I received a message from NaviSite, describing the energy efficient properties of outsourcing:
NaviSite has found that an outsourced IT model can be up to 50% more energy efficient than building a data center for many companies. In general, it takes far less electricity to run a large, energy efficient data center than it does to sustain multiple, smaller installations. So, by consolidating resources, NaviSite's customers are conserving the earth's resources in much the same way carpooling does.
Neither of these statements is incorrect, exactly. Nor are the assertions unethical. But they’re pretty concrete evidence that “green” has become the latest Web hosting buzzword.
What’s more, they help to confuse the understanding of what we might mean when we say “green hosting” (a term whose definition was already far too confused). Confusion doesn’t help hosting providers, it doesn’t help consumers and it certainly doesn’t help the environment. It dilutes the value of green hosting in general, and it diminishes the efforts of those hosting providers who have gone to great lengths to make their operations environmentally friendly.
That’s the real problem with buzzwords. Everybody picks up on them. And everybody applies them. And their ubiquity eliminates their ability to identify anything at all. Try to find an application that isn’t described as “Web 2.0.” Or host that doesn’t tout its SaaS credentials. It’s not easy. And in a few months, I’ll bet, it’ll be more than a little difficult to locate a host that isn’t “green.”
Of course, one of the results of this buzz is no doubt an increase in the overall effort to make IT environmentally friendly. That’s a good thing.
And the media in general is starting to cut through some of the green hype. on the growing environmental impact of the data center business, and the many ways (including some that I’ve mentioned here) that IT companies are trying to go green, puts it pretty succinctly:
“It's a lot easier to put out a news release than to build a data center with a significantly smaller environmental footprint.”

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