By Halle Summers
Has your small business come to the point of investing in a server room? If so, congratulations — that means you’re growing and expanding! For many businesses, a server room is one of the first steps into the big leagues. The even better news is that, if you break it down and take it one step at a time, creating a server room doesn’t have to be an ordeal. The Internet is full of great resources, from buyer’s guides for the core hardware all the way down to cable ties to keep your room neat and organized. Just remember to breathe, do your research, and you’ll be fine.
Determine Your Needs and Allocate Resources
The first step will always be determining what needs your server room should address, then allocating resources to meet them. If you’re running your server through a managed service provider, reach out to them for guidance. Most IT professionals recommend that your server room have the following characteristics:
- No windows
- Ceiling height of at least nine feet
- A drop ceiling with an air return to process heat exhaust
- An electrical setup allowing installation of backup power
- Room to access both the front and back of every rack you plan to install
These specs will powerfully impact the server room’s performance, so they can be considered necessities. Your server room will be only as good as your investment in it, and this is a place that you shouldn’t cut corners. Server rooms can be surprisingly noisy, with fans and A/C units frequently turning on and off. To reduce distraction and annoyance for your other employees, your server room should be sound-insulated. This isn’t a strict necessity, but your employees will likely thank you.
If possible, try to build in room for expansion. You’re probably planning to grow your business, so make sure your server room can grow with it. If you have the resources, it’s better to have a dedicated room rather than a converted hall closet so that your server room’s capacities aren’t maxed out from the start.
Assemble the Key Components of a Successful Server Room
Your next step will be setting up the “skeleton” of your server room. Mainly, this will involve racks and shelving, power distribution, and cooling equipment. Each is vital to a successful IT framework for your business:
- Racks: Server racks are the preferred method of organizing a server room for IT professionals worldwide. Racks are measured in “RUs,” or rack units, sometimes just called “Us.” Racks make it easy to add, remove, and rearrange server units, and are built with front and back doors for easy access. They come in standard widths, so that almost any rack unit you buy will fit easily into your existing setup, provided you purchase the correct size.
- Power Distribution: The electrical configuration of your server room is one of its most important aspects. It can be a complex task to determine how much power is needed and how much is available, so make sure you involve necessary parties such as the owner of your building (if you rent your space). Fortunately, there’s plenty of information available to help determine your needs, such as this online toolkit and this white paper. If in doubt, always consult a professional electrician.
- Cooling Equipment: Servers can generate a lot of heat, and keeping them cool is essential. Many larger data centers rely on capital-intensive advanced tech like sub-floor cooling systems or liquid cooling. Small businesses, however, usually use dedicated A/C units paired with smart design features such as hot aisle/cold aisle configurations. Ductless mini-split A/C units are a great option that reduces the load on your air returns. You’ll also need to install monitoring equipment that will alert you if the room’s temperature passes acceptable thresholds.
Install Your Equipment
When it’s finally time to get your server room up and running, you’ll want to enlist your IT department’s help to make sure you’re doing it in the correct order. You also might want to use a server installation guide to make sure you’re following best practices. And as always, “read the directions” remains the ultimate advice. Make sure you understand the specific nuts and bolts of all equipment you’re installing.
As you’re installing the equipment, make sure you’re keeping an eye on cable arrangements. It’s easy for cables to become a tangled mess, which presents serious risks to your equipment. A variety of cost effective options for fastening and securing cables are available online.
Establish a Security Solution
Server rooms are likely to have one of the highest concentrations of expensive equipment in your entire operation. That means taking precautions to ensure that they’re well protected, such as:
- Access Control: This will depend a lot on the size of your business, but you definitely don’t want just anyone entering your server room. If you have only a handful of employees, a simple individually keyed lock might be sufficient. For larger businesses, you may want to look into a biometric or access code system.
- Backup Power: Backup power is absolutely critical to having a server architecture you can trust. Standard practice is to include a UPS, or uninterruptible power supply, that protects from sudden outages and power surges. You should also have cloud-based and/or hard-disk backup solutions in place that can hit the ground running as soon as you turn the system on.
- Security Cameras: Your server room doesn’t have to be Fort Knox, but with such valuable data and expensive equipment concentrated in one place, you should have at least one security camera (with cloud backup) running at all times.
Take Your Time to Build a Well-Designed Server Room
A server room is a genuine investment in the future of your business. With that in mind, don’t rush! Your business and your employees will thank you if you take your time to construct a server room that’s truly thought-through, functional, and focused. Most of all, research your equipment thoroughly and don’t be afraid to reach out to the experts. A little investment in professional assistance will pay big dividends in how your servers function.
Halle Summers is a Marketing Coordinator for FASTENation Inc., a premier global manufacturer, technical converter, distributor, and designer of adhesive based fasteners and tapes. Halle enjoys sharing her unique perspective and knowledge through her blog writing. When she isn’t writing articles, she enjoys spending time in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and all the amazing food her hometown has to offer.