Joe took a job as a programmer at a small shop. It was a huge pay cut, but his current employer was locked in a death-spiral of declining revenue, declining collections, and declining sales. It was time to get out, and his local market didn’t have a lot of options.

“We’re a small shop, so we’ll need you to help out with general IT stuff,” Joe’s boss, Jimmy, said. By “help out”, what Jimmy actually meant was “be the helpdesk tech, server tech, and if you have time, write some code”. On an average day, Joe’d be running from user desktop to user desktop, installing Excel or removing malware, before hustling to the server room to manually reboot a locked up box, then on his way out the door, he’d push some changes to the company’s website and pray nothing was wrong.

Evaporative or 'swamp' cooler

That server room was a bit of a problem, and you already know the details. It was a repurposed janitor’s closet, complete with the large sink, which constantly dripped just a little bit, water pipes running along the ceiling, and a smelly French drain in the floor. There were no windows. There was no ventilation. There was no air-conditioning.

In April, Joe knocked on Jimmy’s door. “Hey, I’m a little worried about the server room. There’s no ventilation in there- it’s already up over 80ºF (27ºC) today. Come summer, it’s going to be brutal in there.”

“Whaaat?” Jimmy said. “We just bought a half dozen more efficient computers for in there. It’s gonna be fine.”

“I really don’t think it will. Even this is too warm for safety. I had to prop the door open to get it cool enough.”

Jimmy sighed. “Lordy, I’ll put it on the list, and maybe we’ll get something before summer comes ‘round. But I don’t want you proppin’ that door open! That’s expensive equipment, and I don’t want anything taking a walk!”

Summer came around. Jimmy didn’t buy an AC unit. It was a warm summer- one day in August it crested 100ºF (37ªC) outside. Inside the server room, it was literally an oven. Joe kept the door open, despite Jimmy’s concerns, but it wasn’t enough. Their primary application server died. It hosted pretty much everything important at the company, from accounting data to their mail server. It crashed and crashed hard, and whatever was wrong, it was definitely a hardware problem.

Joe wasn’t surprised that there was no budget to replace the dead server. He had to spread its functions around to a few other boxes in the closet. “Jimmy,” he said, “I’m pretty sure this was caused by heat. We need to get an AC unit.”

“Darnit,” Jimmy said, “for that little tiny closet? A whole AC unit seems like a waste, and we’d have to cut a big hole in the wall, and I just think you’re making something out of nothing. But, here’s what I can do. I’ve got a portable cooler I use when I’m workin’ in my garage. I’ll bring that in from home, and we’ll cut a small hole for the exhaust fan.”

The portable cooler was a tiny thing, and it couldn’t keep up with the furnace of the server room. A week later, another server succumbed to heat-related trauma and died.

At this point, Joe was downright angry. “Jimmy! We need to get an air conditioner for the server closet.”

“Durnit, the whole building doesn’t even have an AC. We use a swamp cooler. I’m not buying an AC for just one room! We’ll just turn the swamp cooler colder.”

And colder it was. Jimmy cranked it as high as it would go, which meant regardless of the temperature outside, the building was 55ºF (13ºC). Several of the employees brought winter coats from home and left them at their desks to try and keep warm during the day. With the entire building that cold, with the portable cooler, and with a fan, Joe was able to get the server room down to a reasonable temperature.

Joe was pretty surprised when another server died. He rushed to the server room, and found that it wasn’t beastly hot- it was actually a reasonable temperature. He was ready to write it off as lingering damage from the heat, until he pulled the server from the rack.

Jimmy, as promised, turned the building’s cooling system- its “swamp cooler” up. A swamp cooler is a very efficient cooling system suitable for drier climates. Unlike an air-conditioner, which uses refrigerant and a compressor to create cold temperatures, a swamp cooler simply pulls dry air across water. The water evaporates, removing some of the heat from the air, while simultaneously adding humidity to the air.

That cold, moist air was blowing into the server room, which was a disused closet with exposed water pipes cutting across its ceiling. The pipes were much cooler than the server room’s air, so that moisture condensed on the pipes, then dripped.

Joe was not pleased to find the server was wet. Fortunately, it was only the power supply that was actually damaged, and through some miracle, the short didn’t damage anything else. He replaced it with one of the overheating victims’ power supplies and got the server back in service- but not before moving the rack away from where the pipes were dripping.

Joe didn’t stick around much longer. He left a few weeks later, and despite his warnings, Jimmy never did buy an AC. As far as Joe knows, every employee still wears coats in the summer.

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