Jessica Biggerstaff, Product Manager
Racks and enclosures can be found everywhere. They are in airports, stores, healthcare facilities, manufacturing and production environments, schools and enterprise data centers – to name just a few. They’re available in different sizes, shapes and colors. But one thing is certain: no matter the equipment you’re looking to store, protect, cool, power, manage and secure, you can bet there’s a rack or enclosure available to meet your needs.
Through flexible design options, today’s rack and enclosure solutions provide the ability to increase efficiency and reduce costs in increasingly complex IT environments. This article will provide an idea of the possible options to consider when selecting a rack or enclosure and get the most out of your platform.
Choosing the Right Platform
Two-post. Four-post. Perforated doors. Hot aisle/cold aisle. Airflow chimneys. There are so many choices to make when selecting the correct rack or enclosure for your environment. So how do you know which is the right one for you?
Whether you’re building a new space or optimizing and retrofitting an existing one, answering these questions can help determine the best solution for your specific requirement.
- Space and environment: Where do you need to secure equipment (e.g., is it in a separate room or an open area where many people have access to it?).
- Are you in a location with significant vibrations or one that’s prone to an earthquake?
- Equipment and cabling: Will you need access to the rack from the bottom or top for cabling purposes?
- Security: Will equipment be kept under lock and key at the rack level?
- Other considerations: Will you need backup power for your IT environment — either rackmount or free-standing?
- Do you have a way to remotely monitor the environment and temperature?
- How will you keep equipment at an ideal temperature?
Racks and enclosures are more than just a space to store equipment. These platforms have become an instrumental part of power management strategy in today’s data center and IT environments. They lay the foundation for protecting your IT equipment so it lasts for years.
Rack Protection with Advanced PDUs
Rack power protection and control are key components of optimizing your rack, the room it resides in and the business that depends upon it.
Rack power distribution units (PDUs) are a key part of an integrated system that protects the equipment within the rack. The right unit can allow you to monitor and control the power at the individual outlet, switch power on and off, remotely shut down the power during an emergency power outage, or simply distribute power efficiently and safely. Rack PDUs can deliver the customization and protection capabilities you need within your rack, including:
- Enhanced Reliability – Even a sophisticated power infrastructure designed to guard against unplanned downtime and data loss can be threatened with a simple accidental plug disconnect. To guard against this, some rack PDU suppliers have developed a plug retention feature that takes up no extra space and delivers maximum reliability without the drawbacks of older solutions.
- Energy Monitoring – With switched rack PDUs, users can remotely turn the power on and off to individual socket outlets. The switching can be carried out manually or under the control of power management software. This makes it possible to disconnect non-essential loads in the event of mains supply failure so backup power runtime is maximized. It means individual servers can be remotely restarted to help restore normal operation after a problem, and servers can be completely shut down when the demand is light, outside normal working hours.
- Simplifying Maintenance Upgrades – Older rack PDUs often get in the way of other rackmount hardware, making it difficult, for example, to hot-swap server components in order to maintain operational continuity or to install hardware upgrades. The latest PDUs have a low-profile design, which allows full access to all rackmount equipment. In addition, they incorporate hot-swappable components such as meter boards, which can be fitted or exchanged without interrupting the supply to the loads. As an additional benefit, the best rack PDUs are color-coded so maintenance technicians can see at a glance which circuit breaker controls which socket.
- Network Savings – Network connections are essential for all advanced rack PDUs to provide access to their control and monitoring functions. With older types, a separate network port is needed for each PDU. This arrangement is expensive and unwieldy, as administrators have to deal with multiple IP addresses. The latest rack PDUs reduce physical infrastructure costs with daisy-chain network connectivity, where a single port and just one IP address can be used for multiple PDUs
- Convenience and Flexibility – The best rack PDUs are easy to install and offer a choice of mounting positions. They’re lightweight yet robust and their aluminum chassis dissipates heat efficiently and provides excellent ground conductivity.
Practicing Good Rack Hygiene
As cloud computing becomes a standard for businesses to reduce the operating costs associated with consolidation of server, storage and network devices, it’s also further driving the view of an enclosure as an airflow plenum. Consider the trends surrounding today’s racks and enclosures:
- The amount of heat has increased within the enclosure and data center, thanks to new IT technology and smaller rackmount equipment.
- The number of cables within the enclosure has grown significantly, resulting in potential airflow blockages if they are not managed and routed appropriately.
Ideally, cool supply air should be drawn into the front of an enclosure to cool equipment and exits via a rack-based chimney at the top rear of the enclosure or into a contained hot aisle. Equipment becomes less efficient when the hot air travels back to the front of the enclosure and remixes with cool supply air that’s being pulled through the equipment.
The more equipment you store in your enclosure, the more you will need to consider this type of inefficiency. Airflow mismanagement can result in failing hardware and unnecessary facility costs.
To ensure sufficient device cooling, predictable airflow management is essential, and this means all potential airflow openings must be controlled and managed— which is what rack hygiene is all about. Rack hygiene includes the identification, analysis, and repair of hot air leakage paths and cold air bypass routes within and around racks.
Two primary drivers of rack hygiene best practices are:
- Hot spot prevention – This helps to maintain a constant inlet temperature and allows IT equipment to operate at optimal levels.
- Matching the cooling supply and demand – This can save energy and eliminate wasteful recirculation and by-pass air streams which are part of the “chaotic-cooling method” (over-supply of cool air into the data center). It also helps to prevent aisle and room overheating, a problem that’s often rooted in ineffective rack-level airflow management.
Relying on intuition and creative problem-solving to achieve effective cooling is no longer a viable approach. Rack hygiene is an essential consideration for optimal airflow management. A smart containment strategy, which always begins with the rack, enables efficient utilization of existing physical infrastructure and cooling capacity, in addition to allowing you to do more with less in a smaller footprint with increasing heat loads.
With the right plan in place, you can avoid the chaos that some fall victim in the selection and deployment of a rack or enclosure. Taking careful consideration of rack design, practicing good rack hygiene and backing your platform with advanced PDUs will help to implement an orderly and flexible platform. Establishing the framework for ongoing management and maintenance of your solution, the strategy will help to ensure you are maximizing value and mitigating any potential inefficiencies.