Key deciding factors to select the right IT server rack for an application

An information technology (IT) server rack is no longer a simple commodity. Look at environment, hardware and number of installations. Invest once and adapt as needed to get the features, functionality and engineering to provide long-term value, according to a company with a Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Award product.

By Hans Baumann February 21, 2022
Courtesy: Rittal North America


Learning Objectives

  • Consider varied industry requirements for IT computer racks.
  • Understand rack-based application requirements.
  • Explore additional IT rack requirements, including size, adjustability, cable management and security.

With the myriad of information technology (IT) hardware manufacturers and the diverse industrial companies that make IT server racks, selecting a rack that is right for a business and application can be a daunting task if without knowing why one selection might be selected over another.

The deciding factors governing the selection of IT racks is the physical environment or where it is going to be installed, the hardware or what is going to be installed in it, and the volume or how many are going to be installed.

Varied industry requirements for IT server racks

For today’s data centers to remain at the cutting edge of technology, rack systems must be able to adapt to the innovation cycles of the component industry, accommodating the latest in servers and storage systems. Each industry, IT, Telecom, or otherwise have their own unique requirements due to the type of hardware they use and the environment they operate under.

For example, a global beer producer may have had little use for IT in their bottling processes 15 years ago; however, the influx of industrial automation solutions to help them bottle product faster and more efficiently means producing massive amounts of data alongside beer. This data can be used to leverage better strategic frameworks to get the best product into the hands of their consumer quickly.

The industrial spaces are considered uncontrolled, meaning they are not conductive to reliable IT equipment performance. The right IT footprint and cooling solution, designed together, provides a secure and contained environment for IT equipment and can turn almost any space into an industrial edge deployment. On the other side, large data centers that order large quantities of racks require standard footprints for replaceability and uniformity, so a more structured type of cooling and power distribution can be applied.

Rack-based application requirements

As a next step, understanding the rack criteria based on an individual application can help when considering airflow, power, security and cabling. Consider:

  • Reliability to protect equipment even in changing environmental conditions.
  • Scalability to effortlessly add more enclosures to expand the facility’s capacity.
  • Flexibility with a modular cabinet construction to allow IT staff to add equipment (and equipment of different sizes) without cutting/welding. Flexible design also allows equipment with different cooling needs and power needs in the same cabinet.
  • Safety and monitoring start at the rack level with physical security. Having the ability to incorporate security systems and being able to implement sensors to ensure the appropriate level of protection against specific environmental risks.
  • Peak uptime integrates an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system to ensure a continuous power supply to IT equipment in case of a power outage, harmonics, voltage fluctuations and power surges.
  • Energy efficiency considers all heat-removal options available. Integrating rack-based, close-coupled cooling systems operating independently of the existing climate system (all air is contained and controlled) are the most efficient. Most options require no changes/additions to the existing infrastructure.
TS IT Pro Server Rack Enclosure from Rittal North America offers flexible and scalable network/server rack enclosures. It is designed to meet the current IT needs of today and the growing trends of tomorrow including high density cooling and power distribution. Courtesy: Rittal North America

TS IT Pro Server Rack Enclosure from Rittal North America offers flexible and scalable network/server rack enclosures. It is designed to meet the current IT needs of today and the growing trends of tomorrow including high density cooling and power distribution. Courtesy: Rittal North America

Additional IT rack requirements: Size, adjustability, cable management

Some additional points to consider when selecting an IT rack include:

  • Rack size – Choosing the right dimensions for the application ensures the most efficient use of floor space while accommodating current and future requirements. Servers, for example, require greater depth racks than typical industrial enclosures. Network hardware such as switches and routers increase cabling requirements. Wider racks have room for cabling in the zero U space, the area between the 19-in. mounting system and the sidewalls, which facilitates moves, adds, and changes.
  • Flexibility – Adjustability of the 19-in. mounting system is important to reduce set up time and labor costs. The 19-in. rails may need to be adjusted to avoid equipment or cabling interference with the doors or other installed hardware.
  • Cable management – Cable entry and egress points should be positioned for easy access to equipment and of sufficient size to support the electrical and data cabling.
  • Accessories – Important to optimize the hardware installation and maximize efficiency. In-rack accessories fall into two broad categories, airflow management and cable management. Airflow management separates and prevents the hot air expelled by IT equipment from mixing with the cooled air at the front of the rack. Since cooling costs average approximately 40% of total IT energy costs, directing chilled air solely to the IT equipment protects the equipment and lowers energy costs.
  • Security – An important consideration as controls have become more IP-based, and vulnerabilities have increased. The first line of defense in protecting the value of the equipment, and the processes they enable, is the rack. Locking handles and sidewalls that can be integrated with remote access systems are additional protection for equipment installed in uncontrolled or non-secure locations.
  • Logistics – Remote integration and testing can speed deployments, maintain consistency of design, and reduce onsite troubleshooting. However, careful consideration must be made in how the integrated rack is shipped. Proper packaging, including specially-designed shock pallets, are important to protect the rack and the equipment housed in it.

An IT rack is no longer the simple commodity product it used to be. The new goal is investing once and adapt as needed. After answering what, where and how many and before concluding any search for racks for a facility, consider how a manufacturer will deliver features, functionality, and engineering that provides long-term value.

Hans Baumann is IT product manager, Rittal North America. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: IT computer rack advice, Engineers’ Choice Awards


How are you using modern IT server racks to improve operations?

Author Bio: Hans Baumann is IT product manager, Rittal North America.