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How To Plan Effective Rack Rooms For Businesses

Three essential considerations for rack rooms

Rack rooms are the nerve center of any business, building or venue, and they must be protected as such. This is especially true if the rack room is housing or supporting A/V technology, as some of this equipment is capable of generating a lot of heat. Fortunately, with careful planning, it’s possible to set up a rack room for maximum equipment protection. Though many businesses are moving their data to cloud services, there’s a level of certainty that comes with onsite servers. And A/V equipment has to be maintained onsite, so rack rooms are mandatory when operating amplifiers, projectors, processors, displays and the like. You can’t put those in the cloud. But where should they go? What makes for an ideal rack room?

1. Set aside space early on – Rack rooms run the gamut from small and basic to large and highly complex. While A/V rack rooms tend to be modest in size, there should be a minimum of 3 ft. of space on both sides of the equipment rack. Add in the depth of the rack itself, and it’s about 9 ft. altogether. As for height, a standard rack will come in at right around 7 ft. tall, which means a typical 8 ft. ceiling won’t cut it.

If possible, this space should be reserved by the building’s architect, which means they will need the room’s specifications before design and construction. Of course, many companies will need to build out their rack room well after the building has been erected. Work with the building’s MEP engineers to find the optimal spot for the room.

Of course, planning shouldn’t stop at the space-reserving stage. Rack rooms have to accommodate a lot of cabling, and it should be clear where this cabling is coming from and where it will be routed. Ideally, the cables enter from a single point in the room and drop into it. This will keep cables from bunching up on the floor, producing a safety hazard and exposing the equipment to potential damage.

The cost of building out a rack room pushes some decision-makers into placing equipment racks in a common area. Equipment housed in this manner is exposed to security risks, accidents and potential overheating.

2. Secure the room and the equipment – A/V equipment doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, but quality A/V products aren’t the kind of things that can be replaced easily. Security, then, is a must. There’s valuable equipment in there, so keep it safe. The first line of defense should be installed at the room’s entrance, with a security panel or badge reader. The security system should automatically log any attempts to enter the room, with time and date. If unauthorized entry is detected, the system should send an alert to designated personnel, who can elevate the issue to security personnel or police.

Inside the rack room, some businesses choose to install an additional layer of defense. Many rack manufacturers also produce add-ons designed to enhance security. There is plenty of variety on this front, from simple tumbler locks to sophisticated biometric scanners. Whatever the choice, make sure it doesn’t interfere with attempts to cool and access the equipment.

3. Keep it cool – Security and space are clearly important, but heat is the true archenemy of any rack room. Heat must be combatted effectively because if it gains the upper hand, the results can be devastating for the company.

It’s not just about heat, either. Rack rooms require a comprehensive approach to climate control, which means humidity levels need to be kept in check as well. If the room’s temperature gets out of hand, it will place additional strain on any onboard fans, which will wear out the equipment faster. And, of course, extreme amounts of heat can cause equipment to fail outright. But heat is more insidious than that. Long before it is capable of knocking out equipment, heat can subtly affect CPU performance, resulting in processor errors that can cost time and money for IT to resolve.

If humidity levels are too low, the result may be excessive static buildup. Let it build up too long, and the resulting discharge can cripple or destroy the equipment. And if humidity levels climb too high, corrosion will eventually set in and reduce the equipment’s lifespan.

Precise climate control is a critical element for any rack room. But it’s not enough to rely on the building’s existing HVAC infrastructure. Some A/V technologies, like current generation amplifiers, output so much heat that they will quickly overwhelm standard climate control systems. Additional cooling is needed to keep everything in the rack room at manageable temperatures.

Having enough cooling is one thing – getting it to the equipment is another. It’s impractical for someone to stand in the rack room and verify that every piece of equipment is at a safe temperature. That’s why technical personnel rely on temperature and humidity sensors to take the guesswork out. A sensor at the bottom of the rack, at the top of the rack and somewhere in the middle will provide a clear picture of the room’s cooling potential and will alert personnel when heat is becoming an issue, long before it damages the equipment.

Those are the basics of rack room organization and planning. Space, security and climate control are essential for keeping all equipment running optimally.