The Basics of Server Rack Cabinets

Posted by Gaw Technology on 6/24/2014 to Rack Knowledge

Server rack cabinets have become ubiquitous equipment in the technology world. But as anyone who has had to work with them knows, not all server rack cabinets are equally user-friendly. There is a great deal of variation, both in servers themselves and in the racks that hold them, and that can make installing, removing or working on a server very easy—or very hard.


Today's server rack cabinets actually have a long history before servers even existed. Since the dawn of the 20th century, "relay racks" were used in telephone communications and railroad signaling. By the 1930s, these racks had standardized. Just like today's server rack cabinets, they were 19" wide and had heights in multiples of 1.75", with holes for screws to hold equipment in place. These 19" racks went on to be used in early mainframes, the first modern computer centers, and eventually in network centers. Even as the nature of our technology changes rapidly, we continue to build our servers and computers to fit the 19" rack for the sake of easy interchangeability.

But that doesn't mean you won't find a lot of variation between different server rack cabinets today. Servers are often used in incredibly dense setups, with perhaps 50 servers to a rack, in some facilities. That means that ease of locating and working in a malfunctioning server is crucial. And that has led to a number of innovations.

For example, cables on the back of server present a problem. Ideally they are grouped together and tied in place with zip ties, but if the server needs to be pulled out, this makes it difficult to do without disconnecting the cables or cutting the ties. Thus, some server rack cabinets come with built-in trays on the back. These trays can hold a length of cables in place, all in one neat bundle, so that they can be pulled out with the server. But they represent a tradeoff because the trays will limit air flow behind the server, and cool air is a precious commodity in a data center.

Similarly, different rack cabinets offer different mechanisms for keeping servers bolted to the rack while enabling them to slide out for maintenance. This can greatly reduce work time over a large number of servers.

Every data center needs server rack cabinets and as our tech evolves, our cabinets probably will too. What do you think the next generation of server rack cabinets will be like?


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