"I have eaten / the plums
that were in / the icebox
and which / you were probably
saving / for breakfast
Forgive me / they were delicious
so sweet / and so cold"

-- "This Is Just To Say," by William Carlos Williams, 1934

Unless you have worked in an enterprise-class data center, you might not know it, but keeping all those computer systems cool is about as important and expensive as making them run at all.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is working up standards for how businesses should go about keeping their computers as cold and sweet as Williams' plums. There's some good news and some bad news here, followed by more good:

  • The good: The ASHRAE is instrumental in setting building code standards across the nation, so it's great to see the organization taking steps to address the cooling needs of data centers. According to a study by IBM (NYSE: IBM), cooling a data center takes as much power as the servers themselves; altogether, data centers now account for more than 2% of worldwide energy consumption.
  • The bad: In the first draft of the standards, ASHRAE wanted to set rules for what types of data center cooling is used rather than just how efficient the cooling should be. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) immediately met that draft with a less prescriptive idea that would leave the door open for future innovation and better cooling efficiencies -- just cool the darn thing any way you want, as long as you meet some efficiency targets.

Google's missive was undersigned by an impressive array of industry representatives, including e-commerce leader Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) and telecom giant Nokia (NYSE: NOK), as well as data center operators DuPont Fabros Technology (NYSE: DFT) and Digital Realty Trust (NYSE: DLR). The coup de grace? A signature from Google's archenemy Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT).

  • The new good: The cooling standards body took one look at the united front across enemy lines and swiftly worked up a new proposal that seems to address Google's concerns. The end result is a solid body of rules that sets expectations for corporate data centers without slapping a straitjacket of technology restrictions on the process.

I prefer to focus on the fact that technology leaders are taking responsibility for their impact on our environment. It's not just hot air, either -- all of these companies make significant investments in eco-friendly efforts in real dollars, even when the spotlight shines elsewhere. Keep this up and our kids might have a world to live in, too. It's amazing what you can get done by working together, isn't it? All of this is going down just days before Earth Day 2010, scoring a little PR coup for the companies involved.

As an investor, leaving the door open to innovations is the right long-term move. Google and Microsoft have recently canvassed the country for low-cost energy areas to plop down massive data centers to fuel their search and cloud-computing ambitions. Making these centers more efficient rather than seeking out new low-cost energy areas to minimize cost impacts is in everyone's best interests.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. National Poetry Month always makes him crave plums and peaches. Weird. Microsoft and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick and Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.