November 4

Equipment Racks

Service Providers have been known to admire well-designed, buttoned-up equipment racks.
For integrators that want to take their rack designs up a notch, here are some tips on building a professional rack.
Clean Rack

Have a Plan

A great rack starts with a great plan, and the only acceptable type of plan is a written one. If you are not producing rack drawings before you start building your racks, you are setting yourself up for failure. Even simple systems should start with a drawing to make sure you are accounting for all of the parts, pieces and accessibility of equipment the project will need.

Be Organized


As a rack is being built, many pieces of equipment go into their designated spaces quickly and then need to be interconnected. Have a copy of your system line diagram handy to make notes as you go about any alterations that have been done for your “as-built” drawings, as well as to highlight which portions of the rack you have connected.

Bonus Tip: In my firm’s rack build process we use two different types of zip ties. Red ones keep wires tidy and out of the way during the build, and black ties or velcro are used once the wiring is in its final location. A quick glance tells our technicians which parts of the rack are done and which ones still need attention, based on how many red ties they see.

Extra Parts are your Friend


We typically end up utilizing extra rack rails and cable management rails in every rack we build. Rack rails are installed on the rear side of the rack to account for rear-facing items like Ethernet switches, rack mounted video extenders, etc.

Bonus Tip: Using extra rack rails a few inches back from the front can create places to mount things that need to be recessed in the rack, like video inputs or monitors, to make sure the proper depth is maintained for closing and locking doors or front panels.

Weigh House Cable vs. Rack Cable


We try to minimize the number of connections that are made on-site from house cabling directly to the rack equipment. Pulling extra lengths of house cable into a finished rack is typically messy, and can be confusing to isolate and manage. We typically minimize this by terminating much of the equipment cable to a DIN rail-mounted interface. When we get to the site house cable can connect directly to those interfaces and any slack or excess is coiled at the floor, and not routed through the rack itself.

Access is Key


When I talk about access, I am referring to two different things. Physical access can be a key for troubleshooting. If you can afford the space, plan for things like video extenders to be installed on separate shelves from their source devices, either above or below, as opposed to mounted on the same shelf directly behind. Doing this allows a blank plate to be installed at the front of the rack in that position, so pulling that plate allows the technician access to those devices, when pulling the rack out to gain rear access may be more work than necessary.

Remote access is also important. We make sure to install a sonic wall and Ethernet switch in our systems that facilitate remote access. We also install a high-definition 22-inch monitor, keyboard with touchpad mouse, KVM, audio monitor and housekeeping PC in our racks to allow both users onsite and remote to easily gain access to any piece of equipment for testing and updating purposes.

Bonus Tip: A set of rack rails and a 3RU blank panel can be used to create a recessed in-rack monitor mount for 22-inch 1080p monitors for preview and management purposes and are a much better option than some of the 7-inch rack monitors on the market, as they are too small to use for configuring devices, etc.


On the Other Hand, there are Hack Racks

Clean Rack

Once an integrated room is finished, there is little distinction between integrators.
I disagree with this for a plethora of reasons, but I can see how a non-technical person can feel that way.

There are a few things an integrator can do to set themselves apart. Touchpanel design is a good example. One that rarely comes to mind – but should – is rack design and fabrication. A well done rack can be the ultimate sign of craftsmanship. A poorly done rack can make an organization into a parody among its peers and ultimately leave a customer wondering if they made a good choice.

I have seen many ugly racks, among which I have seen some striking similarities. Here are nine characteristics of a rack gone bad.

Spaghetti and Connectors:

When you poke your head behind the rack and you see a mess of wire that looks like a feast of spaghetti and connectors, it not only looks terrible but it is a sure sign of a less-than-prideful installation effort.

Clean Getaway:

While the TV show, Without a Trace may have been popular, service technicians and customers alike will not be happy if they’re left without a trace to where the wires are coming from and going. As the racks get larger this becomes even more important for serviceability.

Placement Problems:

Perhaps the rack designer is really tall or really short, but equipment that requires regular interaction needs to be highly accessible for the majority of potential users. Putting the equipment too high or too low makes the rack much less functional than it should be.

Access Issues:

Many times racks are built off site, but when they get on site and they are placed in the designated location, they have to be accessible. I have seen more times than I care to count racks shoved in closets and shelves where gaining access requires moving the rack in ways that would be problematic for service. There are many ways to design the rack to avoid this and it needs to be considered in the design phase.

Door Ajar:

It amazes me when I see a rack in a boardroom that doesn’t have some type of door on it. Perhaps showing off the high-tech gear is cool, but it’s ugly. Utilizing furniture or some type of rack door should be the norm

Insecurity Issues:

Sometimes racks need to be placed in less than secure areas. However, between rack doors, security screws, and locking drawers the customers’ equipment should be secure.

Lack of Lace:

For larger racks with large amounts of wire, it is so important that lacing bars are utilized to keep the wire neat and organized. The added cost is negligible in a larger project, but for the technician wiring the rack and those that will service it they will be so grateful that these were used.

Something’s Askew:

Floors aren’t always level (even in new buildings), but racks should be. Nobody wants to feel their tens of thousands of dollars in hardware wobbling in the rack. Make sure the rack won’t wobble by making sure it is level.

Missing Contact Info:

This one is just good business. Put your rack plate with contact information on the front. If the customer doesn’t want your plate in the rack, put a sticker or magnet in the back. People change within organizations, so making sure that whoever is using the rack will know to call you for service is a good idea.

Stingy Storage:

Rack manufacturers make all types of shelves, drawers and storage components. With remotes, batteries, panels and manuals, you need to make sure there is adequate storage for all of these.