Jun 09 2011

Is It Time to Buy a Rack or Cabinet?

Having one can provide your business with more management ease and security.

Having servers accessible and close at hand is one thing, but having them underfoot is another. As companies grow past the “put the server under that table” stage, they need to get organized. That means jumping into the world of equipment racks and cabinets.

There are three main advantages to putting your equipment — servers, routers and storage units — in a rack or cabinet.

First, you reclaim space and make your equipment more accessible. Crawling under tables is no way to increase your IT credibility. Putting equipment in a rack or cabinet is the professional way to arrange equipment. Professionals do it that way because it saves them time when working on hardware and it protects their knees from the hard floor.

Second, keeping your equipment together makes it easier to control the temperature of your equipment. Heat from an enhanced desktop–level server isn't much of a problem, but when you buy a server with multiple core processors, the heat increases. Yes, you can stick a fan under the table blowing at your server (I’ve seen that), but a better option is to concentrate the heat-producing equipment so you can concentrate the extra cooling needed.

Finally, and perhaps most important, is security. Servers bolted to racks are more secure than those sitting under tables. Those bolted onto racks inside locked cabinets are even more secure.

Those of you storing credit card numbers and other customer information need to step up your physical security. Sure, you may fill out your PCI audit form each year and cross your fingers while answering the physical-security questions, but you know you must do better. A server under a table, relying on the locked office door for its only physical security, doesn’t pass a PCI audit — or even the common-sense audit. A locked cabinet does.

Finding the Right Unit

Rack equipment has become standardized over the years, so you can usually mix and match parts from different manufacturers. For light equipment, you can use a two-post single-frame rack, sometimes called a telco or relay rack. Buy shelves for nonrack equipment, and directly mount light equipment to the rack with the side attachment ears that screw into the equipment and into the rack.

The next step is a four-post rack frame. These have four posts to support the weight of heavier equipment. Some are 21 inches deep, some are adjustable up to 42 inches deep, and some are a set depth. The height varies quite a bit as well, though most top out at 6 feet (72 inches). Racks with sides and a front and back are called cabinets.

And yes, you can get desktop and portable racks. Do you want to build a rack into you console desk? You can do that.

It’s possible to create a complete computer room environment inside a single rack. One cabinet can have locked doors, room for multiple servers and storage systems, and UPS and cooling modules. I suggest putting the UPS in the bottom of the rack because of the weight, but many high-quality UPS manufacturers make a rack version.

Even more fun is a rack-mounted cooling system. An exhaust outlet is needed, of course. It’s best to route it outside rather than blowing into the office if you don’t want people to yell at you. Like I said, everything you need in one cabinet, locked securely.

When you get a rack, and add even a minimal amount of wire management tools, the Ethernet spaghetti spilled around your equipment will disappear. Better organization of server, equipment and cables means faster troubleshooting and a more professional look.