Organize your rack to prevent ruin

Organize your rack to prevent ruin: cleaning up and organizing your network equipment.

Organize your rack

I have mentioned network racks before in Moving Your Office.

Recently I’ve organized two different network equipment and rack installs for clients. What prompted the projects? Both clients were upgrading equipment and we needed the space to install it. Both clients suffered from previous companies (VOIP and network installers) installing their equipment by just dumping it on a shelf because the client didn’t have a network rack.

What is a network rack?

What is a network rack? Most business class networking equipment is designed to fit into a standard size rack. See rack example belownetwork rack

To make life more interesting, these racks are based on units. You’ll often see network equipment specs that say 1U or 2U for example. A rack U is about 1 3/4 inches and it refers to height. When you order a rack you need to know how many Us you need for how many devices. Example: a router of 1U height, a switch of 2U, a VOIP device a 1U and a rackmounted UPS or plug rack of 3U. You would need a rack of at least 10U to allow for spacing and probably a shelf for those devices that don’t rack mount to sit on. You also need to calculate the depth of rack you need as network devices have different depths as well.

Network devices need to spaced to get proper airflow. In one of the rack projects, one goal to find out which device’s fans were making the most noise. Unfortunately it wasn’t the device we were replacing.

Rack 1

The client was getting an internet speed upgrade. We needed to replace two old slow 24 port switches with one fast 48 port switch. No point in getting an upgrade in internet speed if your switches are too old to handle the speed.

Going with a 48 port switch also created more room in a small equipment area. All the existing equipment had been jammed into a cupboard without anything other than a spider’s web of network cabling holding in place. One little quake or more likely someone trying to fix or install a device could have brought it all down.

We were able to fit in the smallest size rack (6U) with an adjustable depth that just fit inside that cupboard.

Installing and labelling everything in the racks means the non technical staff can help with remote troubleshooting. It was a major concern for the office manager for this client that she know what everything is, where it is and where it is plugged. I produced documentation for her.

I made sure every power cord plugged into the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) was labeled. Because the space is so tight for this¬† I also did a diagram of what is plugged into the back of the UPS in case they need to power off and power on a device and can’t find the power button.


I also made sure the devices that actually need the battery part of the UPS were plugged into battery ports not surge.

This job took a long time mainly due to nothing being labeled and the complexity of cables involved. Both phones, network and internet were down for most of the work. We also cleaned up about 20 years of dust.

When it’s time to get rid of that client’s old loud fan switch it will be easier to disconnect it without accidentally disrupting other devices.

Rack 2

What prompted rack 2? I was replacing the server backup device. The new server backup device only came in the rackmount format. This client had more space but couldn’t bolt anything to the wall because there was nothing to anchor it too. Previous installers had put in a little patch panel high on the wall with really short network cables. Then they added a shelf which had a pile of equipment. Client also had a huge black locked box for their server that used up tons of space in their locked storage area.

The best solution for this client was to go with a high free standing rack with locking wheels. We needed the height as the existing network cables from the offices into the that area were so short.

In the process of installing we got rid of two devices previous VOIP installers and security alarm folks had left (eating up space on UPS). Also labeled power cords. Next year I will get some shorter network cables to tidy up the cables from patch panel to switch. Organize your rack or ruin

With the reorganization, all the important network devices are now at eye level with their signal lights unblocked for easy diagnosis of problems.

This job took less time as most of the devices were labeled and fewer cables involved. For the most part we were able to keep the internet and phones working while we installed the rack. The area is now much easier to keep clean.

Organize your rack to prevent ruin

Why is this important for your business? Network equipment mess costs time and money. Say you want to upgrade your internet speed? Do you know if your current switch is fast enough? If not, how much work to replace and how much downtime? You want to switch VOIP service provider? Having network mess means longer install times and could mean more downtime on the whole network.

It’s important that network equipment installation take your business plans and goals into account. With rack 1, I knew that the client is also planning to upgrade their VOIP system in the next year. I installed all the current VOIP equipment at the top of the rack for easier removal when they upgrade. With the new documentation they now know what the equipment is and when it was installed. All useful for planning. For more info see Network Planning and Design.

Network equipment is heat sensitive. It not mounted properly with air flow equipment overheat and wear out faster.

Once the rack is organized, you just need a little maintenance every now and then.

Organize your rack to prevent ruin.