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6 steps for setting up a small business server room

Paul Mah | Sept. 11, 2013
Are you worried about relying on a third-party online service provider to store your business data in light of NSA spying revelations? Learn how to set up your own server room for an on-premises deployment instead.

Two alternative for space-constrained locations are open frame racks or small wall-mounted cabinets. Keep in mind, though, that open frame racks may have special mounting requirements, such as being bolting to the floor, while wall-mounted cabinets may not be suitable for loads heavier than network switches or just a few servers.

Isolate Servers to Reduce Noise
Organizations without the luxury of a dedicated room for server equipment will want to consider noise management. Whenever possible, a small, partitioned room is worth the expense. Aside from substantially dampening or even eliminating productivity-sapping equipment noise, having a room for your server gear also offers the ability to secure IT equipment against casual theft or tampering.

In small businesses, where there's no option but to place your rack in the corner of the room or within the IT department itself, racks with sound-dampening properties are highly recommended. Since air vents make complete soundproofing impossible, these racks are generally measured by their noise-reduction properties. How well they work is a combination of the noise generated the one's equipment and the overall sound-reduction capabilities of the rack itself.

Beat the Heat and Get an AC Unit (or Two)
If all you plan to deploy is a couple of network switches and a five-bay network attached storage (NAS) system, then you probably don't need to worry about cooling. Pack in several more servers, a mid-sized uninterruptible power supply and a larger NAS, though, and the heat starts building up quickly. Needless to say, high temperatures can dramatically shorten equipment life and often culminate in inexplicable crashes or outages.

It's possible to compare the thermal load of the rack with the thermal output of your server equipment, but a common-sense approach of measuring the temperature inside the rack is often sufficient. Keeping your equipment cool isn't isolated to the heat dissipation capabilities of your server rack; it's also directly affected by the ambient temperature outside the rack. That's why installing air-conditioning units in the server room is recommended.

One often-overlooked concern is what happens when servers remain on after office hours. In such scenarios, you'll need a separate air-conditioning unit that's not tied to the building's central air unit, which is typically switched off after a certain hour. Ideally, businesses should install two standalone units in the room, on separate circuit breakers, for redundancy. This also allows them to be alternated regularly for servicing.

Proper cable management (see next section) also helps ensure proper ventilation. Generally, it's not a good idea to cram 42 1U servers into a full-height rack. Not only does this create cabling constraints, older server chassis may need 1U to 2U of space between each other to ensure adequate airflow. (Most modern rack-mount servers don't need such spacing.)


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