22 Sep 2022
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Can we use sustainable web design to host more websites on a single server?
Sustainability and environmentalism are really popular these years. People focus on saving water, switching to LED bulbs, turning off lights when they are not around, and in general being more environmentally friendly. But one thing most people don't think about is that one of the biggest polluters lives everywhere around us.
It is not your car, fridge, or even your bicycle. It is the internet. If the internet was a country it would be the 6th biggest polluter in the world, and it is predicted that in a few years it will be the 4th biggest unless we change our course. Everything from refreshing our newsfeed on Facebook, sending an e-mail, video chatting with the family, listening to music, or watching a new episode on Netflix is polluting.
In this article, we will talk about whether sustainable web design can help data centers use less machinery (servers) to host more websites.
What is sustainable web design?
Before getting to the results, we need to talk a bit about what sustainable web design essentially is.
Sustainable Web Design is a term used to describe a website that has been built by putting the environment and people first. It can be broken into two parts. In the first part, you focus on optimizing your website to have a lower environmental impact, and in the second part, you focus on the people. You can read more specific details about sustainable web design here.
The environmental side is lowering the overall carbon footprint of a website by using techniques such as:
- Green web hosting running on renewable energy.
- Using dark themes.
- Serving websites via a CDN (Content delivery network).
- Optimizing images for the web.
- Using system fonts instead of custom types.
- Using page weight budgets
- And much more.
The people side is focusing on your visitors or customers. In today's world, we are getting manipulated everywhere. I bet you that you can't go to the local grocery store without getting manipulated into buying something, and you won't even know how they got you.
When you in a store see that the price tag says $9.95, you are more likely to buy compared to a price tag that says $10.00. The reason for this is that our brain only really sees the first number, so naturally, you will feel like $9 is cheaper than $10. This was just one example of how you get manipulated into buying, and this is something the ethical side/people side is focusing on. I have written an article with more examples that you can read here: Ethical web design: An introduction to ethical and unethical practices.
Why do we want to host more websites on a single server?
According to CloudSense, there were approximately 8.000 data centers globally in 2021. They use 3-4% of all the electricity produced in a year, and they pollute much more than most countries do. Each of these data centers is running day and night to make websites available at all hours. It emits lots of carbon dioxide producing and feeding them enough electricity, and that's not even counting the production of machinery.
We as humans also like to save data, and we do it more than we have ever done before. Back in the day, we were required to think before publishing something since it would have to be written into a book. Printing a book was costly and took a long time, and therefore it wasn't everything worth saving.
Today we publish data just by clicking a few buttons and wupti, it is available to the whole world. We publish, publish and publish, but we don't update or delete when the data becomes relevant, and that's where we have one of the problems. There are over 94 zettabytes of data on the internet today, and we are rapidly producing more and 90% of it is redundant. If a person sat down and decided to read just 1 zettabyte of text, it would take more than 700 years. That is of course if the person didn't sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, socialize or do anything else. The internet is full of data that isn't important and data that is redundant to us.
Every single day we are creating more data which means data centers have to buy more equipment such as servers and hard drives. All of this equipment requires electricity to run, and the more machinery we use the more power we draw. It will be hard to stop people from adding redundant data to the internet, so instead, we can focus on making websites more lightweight to be able to host more websites on each machinery used in a data center. This way we can slow down the growth and hopefully turn around the trend of constantly adding data without refining it.
Can a server host more websites if they are sustainably built?
In 2020 Meron Istifanos and Israel Tekahun made an experiment using a Raspberry Pi 3B with a 1.2Ghz processor and 1GB of RAM. They wanted to measure the performance difference when serving a static website compared to a dynamic website. (A static website contains static data while a dynamic website contains data that comes from the database).
They first ran the test showing a static page. On one side they used Apache2 and on the other, they used Nginx which is a popular HTTP server. The overall goal was to see how much CPU usage rose when they added more load to the web server.
What they figured from the results was that the Raspberry Pi was able to handle 1100 requests per second with 100 users when serving static content. But when serving dynamic content it topped at 90 requests per second with 100 users. The CPU usage was relatively steady around 20% while serving static content, and rose to 40-45% while serving dynamic content.
The results that we see in this study are at a very little scale, and the difference is of course not reflecting what we would see in a real data center. But it is easier to spot differences when studies are scaled down.
Many other factors are coming to play to determine precisely how big a difference it would make. But if we improve just 1% we would have improved a lot on a global spectrum. This test is clearly showing us that if we focus on using sustainable web design, only saving the data we need, updating and removing redundant data, and ultimately focusing on being lightweight, then we can help data centers host more websites using less machinery.
By using sustainable web design we can make the internet more lightweight and ultimately help data centers host more websites using less machinery. Just a 1% improvement is making a big dent in the overall pollution since the internet accounts for such a big part each year.
If you want to learn more about sustainable web design and learn how you can make your website more sustainable, then please sign up for the waitlist for my upcoming book "Sustainable Web Design In 20 Lessons". As a thank you for signing up for the newsletter I will give you the 1st chapter of my book completely free of charge.
I am a self-taught and highly passionate web developer currently living in Sweden, where I use my skills to make the internet a better place through ethical and sustainable web design.