Monday 9 October 2017

Web Hosting and Power, Resource Issues 

As a web host, you may feel a little like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to your resources. Everything costs money: advertising to get customers, purchasing servers for those customer web sites, and powering those servers to keep the web sites up and running. What’s a web host to do with all this stress?

Web Hosting, Hosting Review

Well, the first thing you need to realize is that it’s not your imagination. Costs really are going up, and they start with those servers. The Uptime Institute, an IT education and consulting firm, recently published a white paper to prove that point. Titled “The Invisible Crisis in the Data Center: The Economic Meltdown of Moore’s Law,” it makes for uncomfortable reading for anyone whose job involves lots of servers – and that certainly includes web hosts.

It’s hard to think of Moore’s Law as the villain in this case. It isn’t the law itself so much as the expectations it raises, and the fact that other factors involved in server power and maintenance don’t keep up with it. Let’s look at the math. Server computing performance has increased by a factor of three every two years since 2000. So to date, it has risen by a factor of 27. Looked at that way, perhaps we shouldn’t ask why we’re consuming so much power, but rather, why aren’t we consuming more?

The answer, of course, is that energy efficiency for servers has risen as well. It has risen too slowly to keep pace with the increase in computing performance, however – by only a factor of eight. So power consumption per computational unit is down 80 percent, but we’re putting a lot more of those computational units in play, meaning that we’re consuming more than three times as much power at the plug. When you add in the fact that these chips often require significant cooling in part because they’re more tightly packed than they were in older computers, you face some real power guzzling.

How bad is it? Uptime figures that by 2009, the cost to power a server over three years will be greater than the cost of the actual hardware. To quote Antone Gonsalves, covering the issue for Information Week, “by 2012, $1 million spent on servers will add $6.54 million more to the total cost of ownership of data center infrastructure than what was required in buying $1 million worth of servers in 2000.”

Web Hosting and Power, Resource Issues - Painful Infrastructure Spending

As a web host, it’s natural to wonder if there’s some way around this kind of painful expenditure. The point you need to keep in mind is that this is infrastructure spending. The growth of your business is going to require that you make these kinds of outlays if you want to remain in business.

Actually, it’s a little worse than that. You need to spend this kind of money not just for your main infrastructure, but for providing a back up should the main servers fail. That failure can happen even if you maintain your servers perfectly.

To illustrate this point, in late July, San Francisco experienced a major power outage that affected many businesses. PG&E estimated that 30,000 to 50,000 of their customers, many of them data center providers, went without power in the face of the outage – even the power company itself! Web hosting site wrote a smug press release saying that their own data center located at 630 Third Street “remained fully operational and online throughout the duration of the outage.” The company has data center facilities in Kentucky, California, and Massachusetts, so one assumes they have excellent redundancy in place. The point is, if your competition makes hay out of the strength of their infrastructure, you can’t afford to skimp on yours.

On the other hand, there are ways to reduce your power consumption by as much as 50 percent, according to Uptime. Make sure all servers have their power saving features enabled. Turn off servers that are no longer being used. Check your software for bloat; get rid of the power and resource hogs and replace them with more efficient applications. And consider server virtualization, a technique that permits the consolidation of server software onto a single box to free up data center capacity. It will only delay the inevitable, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Web Hosting and Power, Resource Issues - Is Overselling a Solution?

Another way of possibly delaying the inevitable is to oversell, as many web hosts do. When a web host oversells a particular server, he puts more accounts on that server than it can technically support. Like the energy crisis in data centers, it’s a matter of math. Just to pull numbers out of a hat, let’s say that you have an account that provides your customers with 10 MB of disk space and 25 GB of data transfer. Your server can support 100 MB of disk space and 250 GB of data transfer. That means, in theory, it can support 10 accounts. You figure your customers aren’t going to use all that space, so you put 15 accounts on that server.

That’s overselling, and it’s fine – as long as your customers don’t use up all of the resources they have been allocated. Many, perhaps even most, hobby web sites won’t have a problem. But a lot of web sites offer downloads now, and that can eat up a massive amount of both disk space and data transfer.

If one of your customers has a 1 MB PDF file that visitors can download from his or her site, with your current account set up the customer will expect that it can be downloaded 25,000 times in a month, not counting the HTML to help visitors download it in the first place. That’s not bad…unless the PDF goes viral.

And that’s just for PDF files. Music files take up more space, and video files take up even more space than music files. One MB represents only seconds of video information. If you have a fanatical hobbyist who has put together a very nice half-hour video showing how to do something, it could easily be more than 200 MB in size. Suddenly that 25 GB that looked so big before means that only 125 visitors can view the video in a month. And what happens if the person does a whole series of videos? Before you scoff at this, consider that many podcasters have long-running shows and like to keep all of their podcasts available on their site for their fans. For example, Mitch Keeler does a regular podcast on web hosting that already runs to 118 episodes and counting.

Overselling is only a solution if you know your customers’ needs very well and are willing to commit to having the resources available to your customers if and when they need them. This involves calculating the amount of money you will need to get those resources and setting it aside for that purpose. As Paul Hirsch explained in a blog post for Web Host Industry News, “So, if you’re willing to finance up to 1 Tb. of additional data transfer or perhaps a dedicated pipe, that’s how much you oversell…This is a very small-scale example, but the same principle applies whether you have one server or 1,000 in a cluster.” In this way, you’re overselling without over promising.

Web Hosting and Power, Resource Issues - Going Green? 

There are other ways of saving all that power. A lot of web hosts recently have talked about “going green” to reduce pollution. What exactly does that involve? For many web hosts, it means buying carbon offset credits – basically paying for something that mitigates greenhouse gas emissions. This doesn’t reduce your costs, because you’re still doing business as usual. But there are other ways to go green.

Mitch Keeler on one of his recent Web Hosting Show podcasts noted that green web hosts who go green through carbon credits sound like scams to him. In his opinion, a web host would be really green “if that host made changes that actually have to do with the business that they're doing...they could turn off their monitors in their office after an hour of not being used, use more efficient servers...there's a million and one different things that you could do to save energy and cause less pollution out there.”

Greenest Host is one company that claims it is doing everything it can to be green. The company has built a data center in San Diego that boasts 120 solar panels. These panels generate all of the power needed to keep their AMD Opteron servers running; AMDs were chosen because they consume 60 percent less energy and generate 50 percent less heat than the alternatives. The center was built using steel, and features several layers of “environmentally friendly insulation” to reduce the amount of energy needed to run it.

Greenest Host’s back up generator runs on propane gas, which burns more cleanly than diesel. The cooling system is also energy efficient; it monitors the outside air, and when it gets to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the system sucks the air inside, filters it and uses it for cooling, saving on electricity. These are just a few of the company’s practices. Getting environmentally friendly could be good for your bottom line as well.


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