Emerging Tech

When the server room gets too crowded, rack 'em up

Does your server room runneth over with cables and keyboards? Here's what happened when TechRepublic's IT department performed an equipment overhaul.

TechRepublic has always had what I would call a typical crowded server room. With a mix of HP NetServers, Compaq towers, and several desktop PCs, we had 10 different monitors, keyboards, and mice—all competing for space on the work surfaces.

We decided to reorganize the server room to make room for even more systems, and we had to accomplish the reorganization with minimal interruption of service to our end users. Here’s how it went.

First up: monitor and keyboard switches
To begin, we bought a keyboard and monitor switch and got rid of some of the unnecessary equipment. That was easy enough. We installed two Cybex 8-port switches and the associated cables, and we eliminated a lot of clutter.

Once we’d removed some of the extra monitors, we still had servers stored on the floor and on small, temporary tables. The server room was cooler, but our quest for space and neatness continued.

If the rack mount fits
Next, we focused on racking the servers. We determined that our Compaq 1600 servers and our HP NetServers could be converted to fit on a rack mount chassis. So we ordered three kits for the HPs and one for a Compaq 1600. The conversion kits average around $500 each.

Next, a rack had to be found to meet our needs. I knew that we needed a built-in uninterruptible power supply (UPS), plenty of air flow, and room to accommodate a switch for the cables running into the rack. In addition, we wanted a data cabinet that could be locked. After all, without that physical layer of security, your machines are sitting ducks for sticky fingers.

We settled on the APC NetShelter. It’s a very nice cabinet with a built-in APC 2200-watt UPS, which provides up to 30 minutes of battery backup power. The APC NetShelter comes with four fans in the top with enough flow to cause a whirlwind in the server room! Figure A shows what the top of this seven-foot cabinet looks like.

Figure A
The APC NetShelter helped organize our server room.


Scheduling the downtime
Our end users are workaholics, so we had to schedule the server room overhaul for non-peak hours. We ordered the pizza and started at 11:00 P.M. on a Friday night.

The good news is that the actual downtime was less than we scheduled—and that’s always a good thing. The HP boxes came first. After a quick shutdown, we simply removed one side panel and the wheels. Then we attached temporary handles. These handles not only made it easy for two of us to lift the 80-pound server to the top rack, but they also held the unit in place while we attached the rails.

Next came the connections. One word of advice here is that neatness counts—and extra slack is better than not enough. The APC cabinet comes with built-in cable access on the sidewalls. Just make sure to leave enough slack directly behind the units on all cables so you can slide the server all the way out on the rails. Doing so allows you to work on the server without disconnecting the power expectedly or otherwise.
We decided to connect all these servers to a CISCO six-port switch. I connected this switch to our existing switch, a 3COM 3300 smart switch. (You’ll need a crossover cable here. Get one and mark it in advance.) I had a stash of yellow crossover cables, and while attempting to connect the CISCO switch, I found I couldn’t make a connection. I later found that the yellow “crossover” cable was, in fact, a CISCO straight-through cable. The yellow shows that it is a true CISCO cable. It only took about an hour to figure that out! Make sure you have a crossover cable if you’re going to use a switch-to-switch connection.
With all connections made and checked, it was time to turn on the power. Whoosh! I didn’t realize how much airflow the fans would cause! In our little 8-by-8 server room, paper was blowing everywhere and the fans made quite a din. At least there was no doubt about how much cooler our servers would be.

Now our server room looks great, and I have room for an additional desk and a PC work area for two temporary employees. And they’ve quickly created a new mess, complete with four or five broken PCs, monitors, and printers, as well as assorted documentation spread everywhere.

Next, I’m thinking of buying a scanner to scan all of our manuals and get rid of a few bookshelves! Organization—it’s habit-forming.
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