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Not All 19-Inch Racks Are Created Equal

4 Keys to Choosing the Right 19-Inch Rack for Your Data Center

When it comes to 19-inch server racks, the term “standard” can be a little misleading. Yes, a 19-inch rack is an industry standard, as defined by the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). The designation means that the rack is designed for mounting standard 19-inch rackmount equipment including servers, routers, switches, and uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, as well as audio/video, monitoring, and communications equipment. Standardizing this dimension helps to make the racking process easier, regardless of the brand of equipment you use.

However, there’s more to a rack than housing and storing servers and equipment. Today’s rack enclosures are highly engineered equipment that can and should enhance the efficiency of the equipment they support, improve the productivity of data center personnel, and play a role in system uptime and data center reliability.

That means that selecting 19-inch racks should be a decision that’s taken as seriously as selecting any vital component of your data center. To choose the best 19-inch rack for your application, keep these four considerations in mind:

  1. Consider all rack dimensions. The 19-inch dimension of a 19-inch server rack refers to the width between the mounting rails inside the rack — not the width of the actual enclosure itself. Most severs fit into this 19-inch space; however, some larger servers do require 23-inch racks.

Beyond the width of the servers supported, 19-inch racks have other important dimensions to consider. Where the racks will be deployed and how much equipment will be inside will help you determine the best height, width, and depth of your rack enclosure. It’s a good idea to make sure your rack provider offers 19-inch racks in a variety of different sizes to meet your needs.

  • Height: A standard server rack cabinet is typically 42 to 48U, which is 2000-2265 millimeters (mm) or 78.6-89.2 inches in height. However, racks can be customized to be even taller, which may be important in locations where floor space is at a premium and you want to take advantage of vertical space. On the other hand, in edge locations, 19-inch racks are often shorter, and can be as compact as 6 to 12U if there is not much equipment that needs to be housed within the rack.
  • Width: 19-inch racks are usually 600-800 mm (23.6-31.5 inches) wide. The wider the rack, the more room there is on either side of the mounting rails for things like switches or cable routing and management. Wider racks are becoming more common, especially as rack densities increase.
  • Depth: Most 19-inch racks are 1100-1200 mm (43.3-47.8 inches) deep. The depth you need often depends on cabling access and power distribution requirements. Newer server rack cabinets come with adjustable mounting rails allowing you to place the rails at a shorter depth if needed. However, as IT manufacturers make their equipment more dense, devices are becoming deeper. This reduces the space in the rear of the rack needed for cable management and airflow. Deeper racks alleviate this issue.
  1. Understand the difference between standard and optional accessories. Depending on the rack manufacturer, you may have to specify everything you want on your rack beyond the mounting rails themselves. This can become tedious if basics like wheels and doors are considered optional accessories that you have to add and specify. Before you choose a rack, be sure you understand what comes standard with the part number you’re ordering.

However, even with 19-inch racks that automatically include the basics, you will likely want to add some accessories. It can be easy to get lost in the sea of options available, so it’s worth consulting your vendor to help you choose what’s most important to your unique application. Some key accessories you will want to consider include:

  • Blanking panels. Often times, data center managers choose racks with more capacity than they initially fill in order to allow room for growth. If your rack has unused U space, blanking panels are an important accessory.

Sometime, people think these panels are just about aesthetics and aren’t necessary. However, blanking panels perform a critical function in a 19-inch rack by ensuring the efficiency of the rack cooling solution. Without the panels, warm air is often brought back into the racks through the open gaps, causing the cooling system to work harder than needed and often resulting in overheating. As an extremely affordable and easy to install accessory, we find that blanking panels are well worth the nominal investment to ensure the best protection and performance of your IT equipment.

  • Cable management. Cable management accessories also play a critical part in ensuring proper airflow within the rack. At the same time, proper cable management helps safeguard against the accidental unplugging of critical equipment. Given that human error remains a leading cause of expensive and extremely disruptive unexpected downtime for data centers, this is another investment well worth making. Proper cable management also improves the overall safety and aesthetics of your data center environment.
  1. Think about what additional equipment should be incorporated into the rack. Beyond servers, most 19-inch racks house other critical IT infrastructure. We typically recommend that customers consider specifying rack power distribution units (rPDUs) when they order their racks. The integrated rPDUs support increasing rack power density and ensure reliable power distribution to all equipment in the rack, which is key to keeping critical equipment available around the clock.

Many customers also choose to add sensors to their racks to monitor power and environmental conditions on an ongoing basis. Sensors deliver alerts when conditions exceed established thresholds and allow data center employees to take action and correct any impending problems before sensitive IT equipment is compromised.

For those customers that really want an all-in-one-solution (for example, for an edge location where no dedicated IT space exists), a micro data system may be a smart choice. These 19-inch server racks come pre-integrated with rPDUs, embedded monitoring software, and self-contained cooling. Data center managers just add a UPS and their servers for a complete IT infrastructure solution.

  1. Consider the ease of installation. The people who are installing and removing components within your racks may not have technical or infrastructure expertise. That makes choosing a rack that features tool-less installation important so that the rack and stack process is as simplified as possible. In today’s data center environment, new components are added to racks regularly and data center employees have to frequently change configurations. Racks that offer easy access and the ability to quickly slide in and slide out equipment can save you a lot of time, headaches and frustration.

These days, many data center managers are giving greater consideration to pre-integrated racks. These 19-inch server racks arrive at the data center already fully populated with all rack accessories, servers, and other IT components inside. Deploying pre-integrated racks speeds deployment and reduces disruption to the business and potential interruptions to adjacent racks or operations that can occur during the installation process.

However, a rack and roll deployment solution requires a specially designed shock packaging solution for shipping the racks. This includes a heavy-duty pallet with foam cushioning, additional reinforcement, and special wrapping to protect the equipment during shipment. If you are considering this option, be sure your rack manufacture offers such a solution, as well as the appropriate testing to ensure your rack ships properly.


19-Inch Racks Available From Vertiv

Vertiv offers a complete portfolio of data center racks and containment, including integrated solutions, to support and protect your critical IT equipment. Our line allows you to standardize your racking systems across all deployments and is designed with complete flexibility, ease of installation, and modularity in mind, enabling adaption to your space and budget needs.

For more help choosing the right 19-inch rack for your applications, try our interactive product selector or check out our white paper, The Changing Role of Rack Enclosures in the Modern IT Infrastructure.

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