Apple

Custom rack allows imgix to fill their data center with Mac Pros

Apple's cylindrical Mac Pro is not the easiest product to rackmount in a data center, but that won't stop companies from thinking outside the box to do it.

imgix Mac Pro racks
Image: Miguel Cardona/imgix

A year ago, I noted some rackmount solutions for Apple's new Mac Pro.

One solution, from Sonnet, doesn't just allow for mounting, but it acts as a full-on expansion box with room for more PCIe cards, extra hard drives, and more inside a 4U enclosure. It works, but for a company looking to use the Mac Pro in a processing environment, it's overkill. In addition, it makes for a lot of wasted space if you're trying to pack in Apple's gorgeous, but oddly shaped top-of-the-line Mac.

That's why imgix, a cloud-based imaging processing and delivery service, worked with Racklive to make a custom Mac Pro rackmount solution that serves their needs perfectly.

Racklive creates and builds entire racks of servers, switches, and storage for tech companies. It allows system administrators and IT pros to focus on their jobs rather than spending all day opening up boxes of computers and running a Cat5 cable.

imgix was an existing client, and when they went to Racklive and asked if they could create a rackmounting system for the Mac Pro, they got to work.

The Mac Pro was announced a long while before it went on sale, giving the imgix team time to think about what they wanted. They knew that the Pro's dual-GPUs were perfect for their image-manipulation products and they wanted to maximize precious rack space by stuffing as many Mac Pro's into their tower as possible.

"We batted around 15 different ideas of orientation and airflow," said Simon Kuhn, a systems architect with imgix. "We had a couple crazy wine bottle racks, with stacks of two and then three and then two, all the way up."

The hardest part was handling the Mac Pro's unique airflow requirements. Designed to sit on a desk (but safe to operate horizontally), the Mac Pro sucks in cooler air through the base and exhausts hot air out the top. By setting the Mac Pros on their side, the Imgix rack can pull cool air from one side of the rack and exhaust it out the other, like a standard rackmount computer setup would.

Racklive was able to take their rack expertise and create a set of prototype mounts, enough to fill an entire rack with 11 chassis and 44 total Mac Pros. According to Kuhn, the 44 machines are close to the power budget of a rack, and near the optimum number of machines for the 48-port rack switches they're using, along with the data center network connections available.

"You can fall into the trap of trying to gold plate it. Get one more port," said Kuhn. "98% is really good... We'll get a little bit better than this for the next round, but we needed to get something physical here. See how it works, and find the real issues that you always find with any physical product."

imgix Mac Pro racks
Image: Miguel Cardona/imgix

During the design process, imgix decided it only needed access to USB and HDMI ports from outside the rack. It would be possible to run Thunderbolt or other ports for other rack clients, but for them, it's all they needed. What was up for debate was whether the ports should be in the front or the back of the rack, but imgix (and Kuhn) decided to put them in the front.

"When you have your technician in the data center, you want them working in the cold aisle because its more pleasant that way," said Kuhn. "That technician is often me," so he had a vested interest in putting the ports in the front of the rack. He says that other rackmounted computers put the ports in the back because there simply isn't room on the front.

As for the Mac Pro chassis itself, the rights to it are owned by Racklive, and its possible that they will be interested in selling the product to other companies looking to mount the Mac Pro in their data centers. "We don't normally name our vendors, but in this case, we did," said Kuhn. "We wanted them to get some props for their work. If other people out there want this, that's awesome."

Kuhn didn't tell me what imgix had paid for their rack of Mac Pros, but he said it was very competitive with other Mac Pro racks on the market, especially since it was custom designed to their needs.

imgix is very happy with its current rack of Pros and Kuhn plans to install more racks going forward as the business grows. For more on the Mac Pro install, imgix has a comprehensive walkthrough of their installation on their website.

Would your company be interested in rack mounting Mac Pros if it were easy to do? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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