The work presented in this paper describes a simplified thermodynamic model that can be used for exploring optimization possibilities in air-cooled data centers. The model has been used to identify optimal, energy-efficient designs, operating scenarios, and operating parameters such as flow rates and air supply temperatures. The results of this analysis highlight the important features that need to be considered when optimizing the operation of air-cooled data centers, especially the trade-off between low air supply temperature and increased air flow rate. The model was shown to be especially valuable in defining the optimal operating strategies for enclosed aisle configurations with fixed and variable server flows, and to elucidate the deleterious effect of temperature nonuniformity at the inlet of the racks on the data center cooling infrastructure power consumption. The analysis shows a potential for as much as an savings in cooling infrastructure energy consumption by utilizing an optimized enclosed aisle configuration with bypass recirculation, instead of a traditional enclosed aisle, where all the data center exhaust is forced to flow through the computer room air conditioners. The analysis of open-aisle data centers shows that as the temperature at the inlet of the racks becomes more nonuniform, optimal operation tends toward lower recirculation and higher power consumption; again, stressing the importance of providing as uniform a temperature to the racks as possible. It is also revealed that servers with a modest temperature rise have a wider latitude for cooling infrastructure optimization than those with a high temperature rise , which tend to consume less cooling power when the aisles are enclosed.