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Setting Up a Server Room on a Budget: A Do-it-Yourself Guide

A server room doesn't necessarily have to break the bank 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 centers 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 singlehandedly accommodate all of the applications.

Save Money

  • Save money by passing up the most expensive hubs, switches and routers. Instead, opt for brands like NETGEAR(r) and D-Link(r), who manufacture 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

  • Kendall Howard Modular Server Rack. 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.
  • Neat-Patch. 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.
  • Modular Crimping Tool. 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 3 different connector styles: RJ11, RJ12, and RJ45.
  •  CableCaster(r). 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(r). 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, a leading eTailer of cable, wire and equipment management solutions. He may be reached through the company's Web site located at www.CableOrganizer.com
CableOrganizer.com offers around-the-clock, single-point access to the most complete selection of products that serve to manage cable, wire, hardware and other home or remote office equipment. They can be reached directly through their Web site at http://CableOrganizer.com or via toll-free telephone at 1-866-222-0030.


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Paul Holstein is the Co-Founder and COO of CableOrganizer.com, a leading eTailer of cable, wire and equipment management solutions. He may be reached through the company's Web site located at www.CableOrganizer.com CableOrganizer.com offers around-the-clock, single-point access to the most complete selection of products that serve to manage cable, wire, hardware and other home or remote office equipment. They can be reached directly through their Web site at http://CableOrganizer.com or via toll-free telephone at 1-866-222-0030.
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