3 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Server Rack or Cabinet

Posted by Jeremy Snead on Dec 5, 2016 11:33:46 AM
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When investing in servers, IT equipment, and server rack accessories, there are different methods of how that investment will be stored and protected. Every server room has different capabilities and strategies. By answering these three basic questions, you will be equipped to find the best data center rack solution for your specific needs.

How to Find the Best Rack or Cabinet

There are three questions that should be answered before purchasing a server rack or cabinet.

1). What type of servers and accessories do you intend to install in the server rack/cabinet?

2). What is your cooling strategy?

3). What are your data center security needs and future expansion plans for your equipment?

There are many different types of server racks available, but few racks will meet all your server room specifications. By answering those questions, you can find the best data center rack solution to suit your specific needs.

Server Rack Dimensions

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1). What type of servers and accessories are you installing in the server rack/cabinet?

Every piece of IT equipment has specific dimensions. The answer to this question will determine the dimensions needed for your rack.

A common server rack has an external width of 24” and a height of 42 U, with a depth of 42”.

When you answer what type of equipment you intend to install in the rack, and how much equipment your need space for, those dimensions may be too constricting.

You may want extra room in your rack for:

  • Battery Backup for the UPS—to provide short-term backup power during a power outage.
  • Power Monitoring—to know how much power is being consumed.
  • Power Strips—3-Phase power strips can eliminate stranded power issues.
  • Environmental Monitoring—to provide a warning when temperatures exceed certain thresholds.
  • Device Management—with rack mountable KVM switches to control your equipment.

The rack height can vary with 42 U being standard, but with options of 45 U, 48 U, 52 U, 58 U, and 62 U. There are also rack options smaller than 42 U is space is limited.

The rack width can vary from 24”, 28”, 30”, and 32”.

The rack depth is typically 42” or 48”.

Depending on the type and quantity of equipment you plan to install, a specific variation of height, width, and depth will better suit your server room. A greater width and depth will provide more room for accessories and cabling.  It is important to consider floor space and height constraints when choosing a rack.


Rack Cooling and Cabling

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2). What is your cooling strategy?

Every piece of IT equipment has cooling requirements. The level of containment needed in your cooling strategy will determine your server rack cooling design.

If you are using ambient cooling for a less densely populated rack, then an open frame rack might suit your needs.

For higher density deployments, a fully enclosed cabinet is the better decision. There are many variations between these two designs.

There are factors to consider in your server rack cooling design, such as:

  • Cable Management—structured cabling improves airflow and keeps cables organized.
  • Active Heat Removal—exhaust fans push out hot air and pull in cool air for better circulation.
  • Rack Layout—enclosed racks and cabinets should be bayed, or connected side by side facing the same direction, with the cold aisle on one side, hot on the other.

There are a variety of cold aisle containment configurations available when choosing a rack or cabinet. Some strategies bay racks together with solid side panels separating the hot aisle and cold aisle, while others utilize full cabinets.

Security and Load Rating

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3). What are your data center security needs and future expansion plans for your equipment?

Every piece of IT equipment has a specific weight, and the data stored on the servers has specific security requirements. The level of security needed in your data center and your future expansion plans will determine your server rack cabinet design.

Some things to consider in your server rack cabinet design are:

  • Locks—a variety of options are available from combination locks to cabinets with built in locks.
  • Load Rating—make sure both the rack and the facility floor can handle the total planned weight.
  • Heavy Duty Casters—the static and dynamic loads may differ, only move racks with appropriate casters in place.

It is critical to choose the rack or cabinet that facilitates higher security measures when needed. In addition, it is crucial that the rack or cabinet will accommodate planned equipment expansion, and planned equipment transportation; if not the rack could warp with time or movement.

The Final Decision?

Once these three questions are answered, you can find the most appropriate server rack or server cabinet for your data center.

If you can’t find a server rack/cabinet with the specifications needed, then you can have them customized.

It is important to note that manufacturers have a lead time for some customized racks and cabinets.

Depending on the specifications, the lead time could range from days to weeks from the point of order to the point of delivery.  


Download our Power Capacity Spreadsheet for more information on how to maximize your power capacity.


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Topics: Cabinets/ Racks, Planning and Design