Server racks contain the nuts and bolts of your business—literally!—and thus represent one of the most important purchases for your data center or office. To get the most value for your dollar, here are five ways to conserve cash when you’re evaluating server cabinets.
1. Measure Twice, Buy Once
Before doing anything, all components and computers should be measured to ensure they fit into the usable space of the server rack—not a ballpark estimate. There are important dimensions to consider:
- The footprint of a server rack (the outside dimensions) is not the same as the usable inside dimensions, which are smaller by 3 to 6 inches.
- Be sure to select, measure, and calculate all aspects of the proposed placement area for the server rack, and take into account any restrictions, codes, or door swing issues you might have.
- Always leave at least 1U clearance (1.75″ between components for better airflow and heat dissipation). Never go to the max that you can squeeze into a server rack, it will end up costing you later. Which brings us to our next tip…
2. Shop For Quality, Not Just a Price Tag
As with any purchase, the value is only as good as its reliability. If it has to be repaired or replaced (or there is a lack of ability to do so), the low price was not worth the hassle and cost later. Some of the best cabinets are made in the U.S. with American steel. Look for racks that are made with fully welded frames versus those that are knocked down and assembled on-site. You’ll also want sturdy doors of carbon steel with all welded construction. In the end, spending a little more upfront for quality will save you later.
Here are some guidelines for computer cabinet specs to keep in mind:
- With vertical mounting rails—12-gauge cold-rolled steel or heavier, with holes that
meet EIA spacing
- For 48” tall to 84” tall computer racks —carbon steel frames of at least 12 gauge
- For full height cabinets—a static load rating of at least 2,000 lbs.
- Small server racks between 6U and 18U—with fully welded sides, top, and bottom
3. Plan For Changes in the Future
A very small rack or a wall rack may be enough to hold all of your components for now, but what if your business grows this year? Or you hire more employees? What if you move to a different location with a new configuration? Any number of factors can affect data center and small office plans.
If you don’t consider the possibility of expansion (or moving), you might end up spending more money for future additions or replacements, not to mention potential freight and installation costs. But if you opt to buy a taller or deeper server rack from the beginning, it’s only slightly more costly than a smaller unit, which can save you money and more planning down the road.
4. Choose Full-featured Cabinets for Adaptability
Future considerations (and savings) don’t stop with size alone: Start factoring in all the “moving parts” now. To maximize floor space, consider cabinets with flush mounted side panels and doors, both top and bottom. Look for 24” wide cabinets, as they will likely match the widths of the floor tiles in the computer rooms where you plan to install them. If you have multiple components bayed together, consider cabinets that are joined by a top mount frame coupler with pre-drilled holes in the cabinet frames—this will avoid fix-it projects down the line (note: be sure that cage nuts or rack screws are included with your purchase).
Next priority is ventilation: Our top picks are cabinets with open bases to allow for a raised floor ventilation option. And check availability of solid or vented side panels, as well as optional split rear doors. To keep maintenance simple, look for field-reversible front and rear doors that don’t require tools to change the door swing.
Other potential elements that can save you down the line:
- Capability to add up to 4 fans in the cabinet top
- Cabinets that are seismic zone 4 rated and that are UL Listed
- Cabinets with both seismic tie-downs and caster mount features as well as 4-point
5. Don’t Forget Safe and Secure
None of the above factors matters if your cabinets are not secure and your data is lost or equipment is stolen. Take stock of your server cabinets with the following checklist:
- Do your cabinets have lockable front and rear doors?
- Are your side panels secured from the inside of the cabinet? Or do they have available locking, quick-release side panels?
- Will your cabinet doors accommodate electronic, proximity, or combination locks?
Security is not something you want to scrimp on. The money you spend now far outweighs the issues you could have later.