Beat the datacenter heat, cheap

Low-cost strategies to reduce cooling costs are a surefire cure for the summertime energy-bill blues

Nothing induces panting like the dog days of summer, except perhaps the hyperventilation that occurs when you receive the electric bill after spending a month immersed in air-conditioned-bliss. But there are inexpensive alternatives to blasting 24/7 A/C for keeping your cool at home during these balmy days -- simple things such as sealing air leaks, drawing the shades when the sun's out, and opening windows at night when it's cooler outside.

In the datacenter, admins are feeling the heat as well. Business-critical hardware must remain properly cooled, but the energy bills seem to soar exponentially as the temperature rises.

Fortunately, even the most frugal and financially strapped organizations have ways to cut their A/C bills without having to perform an entire IT-operations overhaul. Following are a few tips for trimming not only some expense from your cooling bills, but as a result, shrinking your organization's environmental footprint in the process.

1. Fight heat with heat. According to tips provided by Sun and attributed to Dave Douglas, the company's vice president of eco-responsibility, increasing the set point temperature in your datacenter by just one measly degree can reduce energy consumption by 4 to 5 percent.

Taking it a step further, raising the set point from 68F to 72F could save 15 percent to 20 percent of the cooling energy "while still keeping air inlet temperatures well within computer manufacturer specifications," according to the information from Sun. In fact, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) suggests setting the temperature in a modern datacenter at 78 degrees, which reaps even more savings.

2. Plug holes in the raised floor. Plugging those holes in the floor is a widely recommended best practice. Leaks can result in cool air escaping, as well as hot spots. Holes and leaks can crop up in various places. One of the more common culprits are the cable holes under racks and cabinets.

Robert McFarlane, president of the Interport division at Shen Milsom Wilke, recommends plugging those holes with either a do-it-yourself sealant, made from Masonite and duct tape, for example, or using a commercial product such as KoldLok Brush Grommet. Placing blanking panels on all unused space in front of a rack call also promote efficient cooling.

Beat the datacenter heat, cheap
3. Enter the thermal zone.

Use strip curtains to enhance the separation by blocking open space above the racks. (Smith had other insights to share with me in an interview, which you can watch right here.)

4. Pull some plugs. Hopefully you have a way of knowing which machines in your datacenter are actually being utilized. If not, performing an inventory is always a good idea. Once you've done that and determine which ones are running at 0 percent utilization, unplug them, suggests Douglas: "If there is a problem [and] someone complains about the system being unavailable, turn it back on." You will see immediate power and cooling savings.

5. Harness the elements. Air- and water-side economizers, or a combination thereof, can help deliver efficient, inexpensive cooling in the right environments, according to Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). He told, "An air-side economizer is very cheap in capital cost and uses essentially no energy, just a tiny bit for controls. Water-side economizer, evaporative cooling with a cooling tower, and heat exchanges in your chilled water loop, [costs] $100 per ton. If you design it very well, it gives you 100 or even 125 units of coefficient performance."

These tips are, of course, just starting-off points, but they're well worth trying. Not only might they help you achieve some of the cost-saving benefits of a greener datacenter, but, hey, all the cool IT pros are doing it.