Tips for first time rack buyer

Few weeks ago, I knew nothing about server rack. I frequent /r/homelab a lot in order to learn to build one for myself at home. These are the lessions I learnt during building my very first homelab rack.

Choose the right size

You need to care 2 things about a rack size: height & depth. The width is usually pretty standard 19 inches.

  • Rack height is meassured in U (1.75 inch or 44.45mm): a smallest height of a rack-mountable unit.
  • Rack depth is very important too. Usually available in 600/800 or 1000mm. Don’t buy anything shallower than 800mm unless you plan to use the rack mostly for network devices. Otherwise, your rackmount server options are very limited. If you must go with 600mm depth rack, you can choose some half depth servers like ProLiant DL20, Dell R220ii, some Supermicro servers or build one yourself with a desktop rackmount cases.

1u rack unit

Carefully plan what kind of equiments you want to use to get the correct size. An usual rack usually have these devices:

  • 1 or more patch/brush panel for cable management (1U each)
  • 1 router (1U)
  • 1 or 2 switches. (1U each)
  • servers: this depends on how much computing power you need. Also servers come in various sizes (1U/2U/3U/4U) as well.
  • NAS maybe (1-2U)
  • PSU: usually put at the bottom (1U or 2U)
  • PDU: some people put it at the front, some puts it at the back. (1U)

Things to looks for when selecting a rack

  • Rack type: open frame / enclosures or wall-mounted rack.
  • Wheel or not wheel, that is the question. I recommend you to go with wheel for home usage.
  • If you choose wheel, get a rack that has wheel blockers.
  • Does the rack’s side panel can be taken off? If it does, it will make equipment installation a lot easier.

Cable management

brush panel & patch panel

The top U is patch panel. The third one is brush panel. The purpose of these panels is pretty easy to understand. I didn’t know the term to search for at first when I want to buy one.

Here are some accesories that helps with cable management:

  • Zip tie
  • Velcro
  • Cable combs
  • Patch panel
  • Brush panel
  • Multi-colored cables: eg green for switch to path link, orange for guest VLAN, etc…

Some notes on the patch panel. There is punch down type that looks like this and there’s pass-through type that looks like this. You probably want the keystone one as it’s easier to maintain.

If you cannot find cable combs, i saw people has been using zip tie to make DIY cable comb. It’s pretty cool.

diy cable comb using zip tie

Other tips

Numbering unit on the rack if it doesn’t have one will help a lot when installing equipments. Like this

label on rack

Most racks I saw on /r/homelab have this but the cheap rack I got doesn’t. I just got to be creative: use label maker tape along the rack’s height and hand wrote the number there.

Know something that isn’t on this list, please tweet me at @tuananh_org. I would love to learn about your homelab hacks.