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If you’re bringing your business data in-house and installing servers on premises, you’ll want to have a plan for setting up a server room. And if you’re like many small companies, your SMB server room is probably a pretty tight on space. Small confines are OK—you just need proper server racks for the hardware you’re spinning up. Always make sure you have adequate ventilation to keep your equipment from getting too hot, and take measures to keep water, dust, and debris off your hardware.

We’ll help you get a handle on server rack basics. Hopefully this will make installing server and network infrastructure for your small business as straightforward as possible. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Know proper server room attributes

It’s advisable to install a raised floor in a server room. Essentially this puts your equipment on risers which helps with cooling, and it’s a preventative measure to protect against flooding. If your server room is in a hurricane zone, this is a non-negotiable.

Ceilings are important, too—air ventilates more readily with more headroom. How high is best? A ceiling that is at least 12 to 18 feet high is ideal; network architects generally consider a nine-foot ceiling the minimum for a server room.

Heat is the enemy of computer electronics, so keep one or several small thermometers around your hardware stacks. Today’s connected smart thermostats are great for monitoring temperature in a server room around the clock, even when administrators are not in the office. In some climates a dehumidifier is a necessity, and smart sensors for moisture add convenience when monitoring and preventing water damage in a server room.

Installing in-row cooling units is another option to consider if your server room is prone to heat. In-row cooling is a good alternative if you opt against a raised floor. A word to the wise, move the compressor to the roof or somewhere else away from server hardware. If a cooling compressor malfunctions it often results in water on the floor. That’s bad news.

Mounting everything in server racks

If you’re scaling up after introducing a dedicated server or two to your network, rack-mounting your infrastructure is a must. Right now, you might have a tower server stashed under a desk, or a desktop NAS sitting on a table top. It’s time to consolidate if you’re adding more equipment. The good news is you can mount most tower infrastructure in a standard server rack.

In any case, reign in your network and get the core componentsmodem, router, core switches, and server equipmentstacked into once place. This is the first step in preventing network sprawl and server room spaghetti as your LAN becomes more complex.

Server racks and enclosures come in several formats. The type that works best for you depends on your plans for building out your server room. Most server racks are expandable, with the maximum and minimum dimensions listed on individual product pages. Obviously, take into consideration both the dimensions of your server room and the equipment you have or are planning to own when sizing up the server racks to buy.

Play to the advantage of different server rack formats

Open-frame server racks vs server enclosures: One great advantage of open frame racks are low costs. They’re very affordable for a company without a lot of budget for installing a server room—usually around a third of the price compared to a closed cabinet. Open frame racks also offer unobstructed airflow so they are less prone to heat. However, since they’re open and exposed, they are somewhat lacking in security and you will have to wipe dust and particulate from your hardware from time to time.

A 2-post server rack—called a telco rack or a relay rack—is bolted into the floor and works best for equipment that isn’t very heavy, like network switches and punch-down panels. Heavier equipment like file servers and rack power supplies usually do not belong in a 2-post rack. These racks tend to be the most affordable and the lightest. Air moves well through them so they are cooler than the comparatively larger, heavier, more enclosed 4-post server racks.

A 4-post server rack is ideal for rackmount servers, rackmount power supplies, and larger networking equipment like KVM switches. A 4-post rack is very versatile. Not just with the equipment it can hold, but also with the space that it occupies. 4-post racks come in a variety of shapes and sizes—for smaller areas you can opt for a slim 4-post rack, or a rack with adjustable side rails

Closed server cabinets are the most secure since they can be locked. From a protection standpoint, enclosing your servers inside a cabinet offers the best physical safeguard money can buy for your valuable hardware. Additionally, cabinets they protect against dust, debris, and particulate that tends to accumulate on electronic equipment. Server cabinets have active and passive airflow fan systems built into the chassis. Since server enclosures do not breathe as well as open-face cabinets, you may consider deploying additional rack cooling equipment.

Let us know in the comments— if you have tips to share, or questions about a specific setup we’d love to know.

How to Choose Server Racks for a SMB Server Setup
Article Name
How to Choose Server Racks for a SMB Server Setup
If you're like many small companies, your SMB server room is probably a pretty tight on space. Small confines are OK—you just need proper server racks for the hardware you're spinning up.
Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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