8 Important Things to Consider Before Getting Started in a Rack Integration for Enterprise Server Rooms

Every enterprise that ever needed a server was required at some point to invest in its own infrastructure, hardware and maintenance solutions, and house all that equipment in a dedicated room of the office. However, thanks to cloud technology and the rapidly increasing availability of fiber connectivity, alternative options are available: data centers, specialty co-location and hosting companies, and growing-as-a-service business models have opened new opportunities in recent years.

Depending on your current scale and business strategy, you will decide to choose cloud services, a data center service, build your own dedicated facility to house your own data center, or just begin with an on-premise server room.

Building out data centers or enterprise server rooms requires rack integration, a mature and common IT service that technicians perform or companies outsource to assemble all the equipment. It might as well be rocket science if you don't understand the processes, technologies and solutions involved, however, it doesn't need to be a complex or daunting operation. Rack integration should be accomplished without any disruption to your operations or services. Here are eight of the most important things to consider when game planning a rack integration for enterprise server rooms.


1. Server, Data Center and IT Room Safety Basics

A server room is a room that is devoted to store servers. A data center is a entire building specially designed to contain and support a large amount of computing hardware. Often the difference is design, scale, purpose, location, and the amount of control and oversight you have over the infrastructure. Just any old space won't do for your enterprise server room. When deploying new racks, make certain your IT space isn't a vector for unnecessary risks and potential disaster:

  • Avoid locations next to an exterior wall (which may attract moisture), exterior windows (which can be blown in by storms), and “wet walls” (pipe-filled walls susceptible to damage from plumbing leaks).
  • Don't locate in a basement space, which can suffer catastrophic damage during a flooding incident.
  • Ensure the environment is physically secure, with limited access and secure locks.
  • The space should utilize an alternative fire suppression system, i.e. one that uses heat removal or inert gasses to suffocate fires.
  • Ensure there's adequate room to move nodes for maintenance, servicing and growth.

2. Rack Density, Power and Growth

The amount of power required by each node and rack continues to rise for enterprise users. According to the AFCOM 2020 State of the Data Center report, rack density increased by a kilowatt (kW) from the previous year, from 7.2 kW to 8.2 kW. The increasing trend toward higher power rack density means that enterprises need to be mindful of using space more wisely. With AI adoption and GPU accelerated workloads on the rise, accommodating new hardware that uses more power and generates more heat than generic servers is a critical capability. HPC/AI servers can lead to power use of 20-30 kW per rack or more, which also requires more efficient cooling at scale.

3. Rack Air Conditioning and Liquid Cooling

Rising energy costs are compelling many enterprises to rethink their fundamental IT practices and reduce power consumption, by implementing energy efficiency best practices. As power-intensive applications and server densities have increased, liquid cooling units using air/water heat exchangers or immersion tanks are increasingly being deployed. One of the primary benefits of self-contained liquid cooling units is that they result in little or no impact on the existing HVAC system.

It's essential to understand that rack air conditioners are intended for use in large industrial spaces: they can generate significant condensation and noise, and they exhaust hot air into the room where the enclosure is located. In a large room, the heat readily dissipates; in a smaller room or confined space, the exhausted hot air from the AC unit can cause the room to overheat, in the absence of compensating solutions.

4. Understand Relevant Space Specifications for Stacking

“Stacking” is the physical process of transporting and deploying racks at their final destination, whether it's a dedicated data center or an on-site enterprise space intended for the same role. Data centers are purpose-built to make stacking simple and fast, so there's usually not a lot to worry about: transiting racks should be easy and there is likely sufficient space to make installation a trivial matter.

On-site enterprise spaces can be a challenge and it's important to understand all the relevant specifications prior to the stacking process. Rack height is the most important: the racks need to fit not only in the installation space, but in every space that needs to be transited through to get there, which could include subterranean parking garages, elevators, hallways, utility corridors, or even stairs. Rack dynamic load capacity could be a crucial issue, as a complex move can place unexpected physical demands on the racks and the equipment.

Another issue is sufficient space to enable access for maintenance, monitoring and servicing. Crowded enterprise spaces may be designed with enough space for racks, but without sufficient room to properly maintain them. Having a rack elevation – an engineering drawing that depicts exactly how equipment is intended to be installed within the rack – is another tool to understand your space and help you avoid “Stacking Day” challenges that lead to delays and cost overruns.

5. Open Racks or Enclosures?

What's better for your space, open racks or enclosures? Open racks are typically offered in two-post and four-post configurations. They provide the minimum requirement for housing your IT equipment and have several advantages: they're easily installed, have a small footprint, cost less, and offer improved accessibility. On the other hand, they're less stable and offer less protection to equipment.

Enclosures provide an added framework that contains the racks. They offer enhanced security, are simpler to organize, make it easier to control heat, and have a more diverse range of mounting options and accessories. The drawbacks include higher cost and the need for additional space.

6. Well-Managed Cables Are a Necessity

Shoddy rack integrations or improvised housing spaces that result in jumbled cabling are not just an eyesore, they're also a source of substantial risk. Disorganized data and power cables can lead to accidental service disruption, particularly through human error during maintenance and servicing. Properly organized cables also increase effective airflow, which reduces the potential for destructive overheating.

Here are some cable management tips to help you better ensure data and service integrity:

  • Separate data and power cables to reduce signal interference
  • Velcro ties are simpler and safer to remove than zip ties
  • Do not run cables across the inside of a rack or enclosure; bundle them and run them vertically and across the top
  • Label cables at both ends to simplify troubleshooting
  • Have a consistent and well-documented labeling methodology
  • Take photos of equipment front and back to make over-the-phone troubleshooting easier
  • Have both electronic and hard copy versions of your documentation

7. IT Staffing and Resourcing

Your IT team focuses on initiatives that relate to your business continuity and efficiency through technology innovation. They maintain processes to ensure the health of the server stacks, the physical infrastructure of your IT environment, and related systems. Their expertise and activities provide a competitive edge to your business and their job is already challenging, with a focus on managing the functionality of complex hardware and software elements:

  • Organizing workload requests
  • Managing sufficient power and cooling
  • Network and device monitoring
  • Automating tasks through scripting or tools
  • Managing outages, maintenance windows, backups and upgrades
  • Reporting and communicating to business stakeholders

Prioritize activities that maintain their focus on these mission critical operations, and avoid dividing their attention, which can lead to instances of work failure and IT resource unavailability.

8. Ensure Your Service Provider Does It All

Choosing whether to do everything in-house or outsourcing your IT operations depends on the project and business strategy. Just understand that outsourcing doesn't require increasing complexity, hassles, or even costs: you don't need multiple service providers to accomplish different elements of a rack and stack operation. To reduce complexity, improve satisfaction, and lower costs, choose a competent provider that is a one-stop-shop for all rack integration services, including:

  • Rack engineering, design, feasibility analysis and program management
  • Node- and rack-level component/technologies engineering and/or selection
  • Multi-vendor management
  • Project assessment, including equipment, environment and all required elements unique to the customer, business requirements and workloads
  • Scheduling, personnel selection and project planning
  • Comprehensive rack integration processes, including node assembly, networking, power and cabling
  • Configurations, integration, testing and validation
  • Software burn-in and imaging
  • Crating, packaging, logistics and transport
  • Deployment, power-on, user onboarding and troubleshooting

Having a single rack integration services provider reduces both costs and complexity, while improving convenience – it's the ideal solution for enterprises to better manage a successful rack and stack.

A little understanding goes a long way. If a rack integration is part of your strategy to upgrade your capabilities and operations, then your way forward is clear: take the time to understand everything that goes into the process, thoroughly evaluate your own needs, and set yourself on the path toward success.

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