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Setting Up a Server Room on a Budget: A DIY Guide


March 21, 2009
By Anthony Capkun

March 20, 2009

By Paul Holstein

Controlling operational costs is always a challenge, but amid the current recession budgets are tighter than ever. While it’s possible to make smart decisions and cut a few extras to spend less, one thing most companies can’t nix is a reliable server and a cool, secure room in which to keep it. In this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to do business without a solid network infrastructure, and server rooms have become the nerve centres of our businesses. But despite its vital importance, a server room doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank.

Read on for tips on setting up an efficient and reliable server room… even if you’re on a tight budget.



Choosing the perfect server room location

Just as
all proverbial roads lead to Rome, all structured cabling leads to the
server room. This considered, the ideal server room is centrally
located, so that cables can be strategically run without the need to
cover too much distance, or take too many twists and turns along the
way.




Choose a
room that is easily accessible to IT staff, but make sure that it’s
also somewhat out of the way, so that you don’t have unauthorized
personnel wandering in and out.




When
you’re considering space for a server room, be sure to allow for
growth. Your company may be starting out small, but when it grows, you
could find yourself very short on space. Aside from creating logistical
nightmares, overcrowded server rooms are also extremely prone to
overheating, which can lower the efficiency of, or destroy, your
network components.




General tips

When
purchasing hubs, switches and routers, stick with the same brand for
all – it’ll make maintenance and troubleshooting down the road that
much easier. Should you ever encounter a problem with a mixed setup,
troubleshooting between several manufacturers could prove extremely
tricky, and it’s likely that you’d be referred from one company’s
service department to the next without ever getting answers. On the
other hand, troubleshooting with a single manufacturer just might get
you results. When the support reps you’re dealing with over the phone
are actually familiar with all of your hardware, they’ll be far more
likely to get to the root of the problem, and far less likely to pass
you on to someone else.




One of
the most vital aspects of server room operation is temperature control.
Because the ambient temperature of a server room needs to stay between
65°F and 75°F for equipment to run safely and efficiently, proper air
conditioning is crucial. Relying on central A/C can cause problems
because of the climatic differences between rooms; while one room may
be unbearably cold, the one next to it could be stifling. Conditions
like this, in the presence of just a single thermostat, can lead to
catastrophic overheating in the server room. Don’t gamble with central
A/C; instead, equip your server room with its own dedicated thermostat,
which will allow for minute temperature adjustment as often as needed.




When you
purchase a server, take into account all of the software that your
business requires, and make sure that the server can single-handedly
accommodate all of the applications.

{mospagebreak}



Save money

Save
money by passing up the most expensive hubs, switches and routers.
Instead, opt for brands from manufacturers that make reliable network
equipment that won’t wipe out your budget.




Instead
of purchasing a different server for every application, try to use a
single server for everything. If your company is very small, you can
always forgo the file server, and instead opt for an external hard
drive that can be integrated into your network; 500GB drives are
typically very affordable.




When you’re shopping for servers, check out Dell: their product line accommodates a wide range of needs and budgets.



Take the
time to evaluate your needs before you purchase, so that you don’t end
up spending money on things you don’t need. For instance, if your
business is small, go with 1Gb instead of 10Gb, or select smaller hubs
and switches… after all, why pay for 48 ports when 24 are more than
enough? While being conservative, try to reasonably gauge your
business’ growth so that you don’t over or under-buy.




If
you’re starting out small, pass up large server racks for something
small and wall-mountable. You can always add more (or bigger) racks
later when you need them, but for the time being you’ll save money and
space.




Smart buys

As
mentioned earlier, a great way to save money is to start out with a
small server rack, and then grow into a larger one when you need it.
One of my favorite lines of small-business server racks is the Modular
Server Rack by Kendall Howard. These diminutive cabinets may be smaller
than what you originally had in mind, but they’re designed for
effortless future expansion, and are an excellent value for the price.
Available in 17”-, 24”- and 38”-heights, these racks give you the
option of using casters for mobility, and feature interlocking corners
that allow you to securely stack them on top of each other.




As long
as you’re creating a server room from scratch, be sure to start off on
the right foot in the cable management department. Left to themselves,
servers have a way of generating masses of tangled patch cords, which
become impossible to trace during troubleshooting, and tend to obscure
equipment. That’s why I strongly recommend the Neat-Patch, a simple
cable management system designed specifically for server racks. Based
on short 2-foot patch cords and a unique storage compartment,
Neat-Patch eliminates the waste of unnecessarily long cables, and keeps
your server rack organized, perfectly traceable, and ready for
expansion.




A great
way to save money on server room setup is to terminate the network
cables yourself. Even while self-installation helps to cut costs
considerably, you’ll still need to invest in a crimping tool to get the
job done. I suggest the highly economical Modular Crimp Tool, which has
a built-in cable cutter and stripper, as well as the ability to crimp
three different connector styles: RJ11, RJ12, and RJ45.




If
you’re going to cut costs by running your own network cables, make your
job easier by taking just a little of the money you’re saving by not
hiring an installer, and investing in a CableCaster. This gun-like
cable puller is perfect for installing cables in cramped,
difficult-to-navigate plenum spaces. Just shoot one of the
glow-in-the-dark darts up to 50 feet, attach your cable to it, and reel
the line back in.




Paul Holstein is the co-founder and COO of CableOrganizer.com. CLICK HERE to visit them.