Racks, Power, and So On

Racks are beautiful containers for servers and storage arrays. On this page we’ll briefly tackle the subject of what to look for in a rack and related equipment.

Racks

Racks are measured in U’s, each U is roughly 1.75″ high. ┬áRacks are a convenient way for storing and accessing a number of servers, storage arrays, and other IT equipment.

You’ll want to make sure that your rack is tall enough to contain your equipment and that it is deep enough for your equipment as well. Some racks are shallower than others and are meant to contain smaller units such as network switches, routers, and firewalls. Others are deeper and can handle servers and storage arrays.

Personally, I’m a fan of Tripp Lite or Dell racks.

Power

When using a Rack you will usually want to have power strips which can run horizontally across the rack or vertically up the rack. I’m personally a fan of the vertical units and believe in placing one on both the left and right sides, using redundant power supplies in all servers and storage arrays, and ensuring that one power plug for each server/storage array goes into each power strip. Doing this ensures that if a power strip should fail (or, more likely, a circuit breaker should trip), you’ll still keep your devices running. Again, I’m a fan of Tripp Lite for these power strips.

In addition to having power strips you should also have battery backups. Two of the most popular companies are APC and Tripp Lite. These ensure that temporary power outages don’t cause your servers/storage arrays to suddenly power off and allow you to shut off systems gracefully if there is an extended power outage and you don’t have backup power generators.

KVM

When you have a bunch of servers all crammed into a rack you really don’t want to have a separate Keyboard, Video, and Monitor for each server – this is where a KVM comes in handy. You’ll be looking for two primary components when looking for a KVM – namely you’ll want a rack mountable KVM – which is essentially an integrated monitor, keyboard, and mouse which can be pulled in and out as needed (and usually takes up a single U when not in use). You’ll also need a KVM switch which allows for all the different servers to plug into a single device which then outputs to the aforementioned rack mountable KVM.

There are other ways to accomplish this. One could use integrated BIOS level functionality such as that provided by the iDRAC (integrated Dell Remote Access Controller) which operates over TCP/IP or you could use a mobile KVM unit which is plugged into the KVM switch when needed – but the rack mountable KVM is the most beautiful solution.[1]

  1. [1]I’m not minimizing the iDRAC solution – which is also elegant – but when you are working at the rack itself, it is nice to not have a separate laptop booted up or to be wheeling around a separate KVM unit on wheels.
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