How to Select IT Racks and Enclosures – Part 3

Hardware Maintenance


Paul Mercina April 03, 2018

Networking Racks: Getting It Right

Server enclosures tend to get all the attention, but network cabinets and racks are an integral part of the data center or IT closet. These solutions house routers, switches, and other networking equipment and accessories. Compared with their server counterparts, they are shallower—usually 31” or less in depth—and often lack high-end cooling systems, as networking equipment doesn’t run as hot as other IT gear.

Networking racks may seem simplistic, but there are still challenges for IT pros in balancing cost-savings with best practices in their networking backbone. Here are some tips for getting this often overlooked part of the data center right.

Finding the Cost-Savings

When provisioning new racks for the enterprise’s networking components, cost is an obvious consideration. Here are four ways to get the price down:

  1. Shop around. It goes without saying, comparisons among vendors will be key in finding the best price. Be sure to ask about volume discounts or other deals, especially from suppliers for which you are a repeat customer.
  2. Stay open. A typical open-frame rack is the most economical choice, at about one-third the cost of a rack enclosure. There are downsides, namely no rack-level security (locks) and less physical protection from moisture, dust, and other debris. For a location that is already access-protected and clean, however, open-frame racks are a fine—and much more affordable—choice.
  3. Buy used. Most IT gear can enjoy a longer lifespan than many IT leaders expect, all the more so when it comes to networking racks and enclosures. Buying used is a great way to save money or get more tricked out enclosures than the business might be able to afford brand new.
  4. Consider non-capital costs. Don’t limit the calculations to immediate price point. Sometimes a few extra dollars can lower TCO (total cost of ownership). Tool-less mounting can slash engineering time, while taller racks can make the most of limited floor space. It all adds up.

Common Problems

Problems with networking racks are more likely to derive from improper installation choices than from equipment choice, with some exceptions. So once you have the racks or cabinets you need, attend to the details to ensure the equipment will remain safe and perform well.

Among the most common errors associated with networking racks are the following:

  • Being closed minded. Fully enclosed cabinets (without perforations) are meant for use where fresh air will be pumped directly into the enclosure. Even networking equipment can overheat if such cabinets are used with whole-room A/C only. For such applications, select enclosures with perforated doors or open racks.
  • Getting tipsy. Different racks have different installation requirements. Some need special floor mounting. Wall-mounted racks must be adequately fastened. Failure to follow the instructions or ensure that the wall or floor can accommodate the weight or installation hardware can result in equipment damage.
  • Timber! Free-standing enclosures can tip over. Increase stability by installing heavier equipment should toward the bottom of the rack and lighter gear up higher.
  • Oops! Where did this go? A networking cabinet should not be like that bike assembled late Christmas Eve, with extra parts left over. Missing and loose screws put equipment in jeopardy of physical damage and poor connectivity.
  • Cutting it close. Cisco recommends a minimum of 6” between chassis air vents and adjacent walls and a minimum horizontal separate of 12” between chassis. Tighter spacing can cause heat-related problems, so give your networking equipment room to breathe.
  • Zap! All too frequently, racks are not connected to the building’s ground. This poses a serious risk for personal injury, as well as operational deficiencies and failures in networking equipment caused by stray current. Some systems also have additional grounding requirements, which should not be overlooked.
  • Cabling spaghetti. We’ve seen the “cable spaghetti” photos. That rat’s nest is likely to block air circulation and could mix network and power runs together, causing interference. To avoid these problems, plan the cabling as carefully as you do your data center design. Also bunch, tie, and label cables appropriately. Neat cables aren’t just a benefit for the next person who has to trace a wire, they facilitate air flow and ensure performance, too.
  • Paint problems. All paint used on networking racks should be non-conductive. Racks from any reputable manufacturer should be fine out of the box. But for spot repairs, be sure to use the right paint. Also do your due diligence when purchasing used equipment.

Once you have your networking cabinet or rack installed, don’t overlook basic maintenance tasks, such as inspecting and replacing surge protection equipment. To keep equipment operating at peak performance, it’s essential to have an established maintenance program, including employee-training and task-tracking components, as well as a reliable partner for spare parts and engineering expertise.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that your networking rack/cabinet installation is safe and will promote a long life for the hardware in contains.

About the Author

Paul Mercina, Director, Product Management Marketing
Paul Mercina brings over 20 years of experience in IT center project management to Park Place Technologies, where he oversees the product roadmap, growing the services portfolio, end-to-end development and release of new services to the market. His work is informed by 10+ years at Diebold Nixdorf, where he worked closely with software development teams to introduce new service design, supporting implementation of direct operations in a number of countries across the Americas, Asia and Europe.