Why spend millions of dollars and consume megawatts or electricity chilling data centers when the cold air outside can do the job for free?

The Green Grid, an industry group formed to push energy efficiency in data centers, has released online tools and a handy map to help data center operators do just that. The tools allow data center operators to input zip codes, local power rates and other variables to come up with estimated savings to be achieved by switching to outside, or ambient, air cooling.

Given that air conditioning accounts for a third to a half of the power demands of data centers, more and more of them are looking to outside air to cut down on power bills.

Take Intel, which did a nine-month test of a New Mexico data center using an "air economizer" that drew in outside air as hot as 90 degrees Fahrenheit before switching to air conditioning. It worked just fine, Bradley Ellison, Intel's IT Infrastructure Manager, said in February (see this Green Light post).

Or there's Microsoft, which is installing ambient air coolers in a data center it's building in Ireland. Or Advanced Data Centers, which is using a similar system for a data center it hopes will set new records for energy efficiency (see Advanced Data Centers Claims Super-Efficiency).

Much of the savings will depend on the local climate. San Francisco, for example, is cool enough to give server rooms about 8,500 hours a year of ambient air cooling, out of a total need of 8,760 hours per year, Subodh Bapat, the vice president at Sun Microsystems, who leads sustainability efforts, told Greentech Media last year (see Green Light post).

Data centers use about 1.5 percent of the nation's power, so cutting back on air conditioning loads could have a big impact on easing demand on the nation's power grid.

It could also save data center operators a ton of money. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has predicted that power costs for data centers could rise to as high as $7.4 billion a year by 2012 without efficiency improvements (see Data Centers Could Hit 'Resource Crisis').

Those kinds of projections have caught the attention of data center operators. Hewlett-Packard announced in 2007 that it would reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent in the next three years, and IBM announced it would spend $1 billion per year on new products and services for data-center efficiency (see IBM Gives Extra Credits).

Sun and General Electric are among the data center operators who are now offering their expertise to other companies looking to cut their data center power costs (see Sun: Data Center Efficiency for Everyone and GE Looks to Data Center Efficiency).

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