Hardware Today: Building a Server Room Wish List

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Oct 25, 2004

It's getting to be that time of year again: CIOs are asking themselves, was the IS department good this year, and, if so, what are we going to buy the server room for the holidays? For years, IS departments have received the same old stuff: bigger and better servers, maybe a PBX, and perhaps a few of the latest switches.

Whether an unspent budget or reallocated funds, an unexpected financial windfall for the server room can feel like a holiday bonus. We suggest some up-and-coming products that will pay off in improved performance, better security, and more.

For those looking for a change of pace, there's no better time than the present to get really creative and come up with a present nobody else would have thought of — something the server room is sure to appreciate over time because of the resulting improved performance, better security, sleeker layout, or heightened environmental control.

To help you chose, we will highlight several cool (and useful) additions to meet every budget.

Cool Power

For the server room that wants to stay cool in a high-powered environment while looking sleek and sophisticated, American Power Conversion (APC) offers some excellent rack systems. APC's InfraStruXure, in particular, powers and cools server room equipment, making everything easy to manage in a rack-optimized design. The integrated cooling system consists of APC's NetworkAir In-Row air conditioner and a Hot Aisle Containment System. The InfraStruXure system improves availability by placing the cooling system within the server row and is designed specifically to address high density IT technologies, such as power-dense servers. It is capable of cooling 20kW (kilowatts) per rack.

According to Buy.com, InfraStruXure sells for about $2,000 per rack, depending on the features. If you want to add only a NetworkAIR PA air conditioner, the 1.6 kW model is around $800, and the 4 kW version is $3,400. These self-contained portable units do not require an external condenser, refrigerant piping, or building water source for operation. Heat is rejected to a drop ceiling or adjacent area via a flexible duct kit.

Out-Hacking the Hackers

Today's server rooms demand the finest security tools to keep data safe. Server rooms on a small budget that want to stay one step ahead of the hackers will find ADC's Ethernet Test Access Panel useful. It provides a non-invasive way to test and monitor the delivery of critical data services over Ethernet cabling, up to and including Gigabit Ethernet. It can be plugged into any standard Ethernet test set, sniffer, or intrusion detection system (IDS). Ethernet Test Access Panel is priced starting at just under $500 for 24 circuits.

"The Ethernet Test Access Panel helps customers monitor the signals that are going through in a passive way," said John Schmidt, IP Infrastructure product manager for ADC. "It is basically a tap on an Ethernet line to be able to observe hacker activity without alerting the intruder or slowing down traffic."

Bandwidth Bonanza

10/100 Ethernet has been around for years. More recently, 1 gigabit per second Ethernet has become available. Now, the IEEE has released a standard for 10 Gb over fiber. But fiber costs money. It's copper wiring that keeps cabling costs down.

Enter Krone's CopperTen, the first augmented Category 6 structured cabling system capable of transmitting 10 Gb Ethernet more than 100 meters. Category 6 systems use unshielded twisted pair (UTP) cable, the most widely used type of network cabling. UTP-based systems are easier to install and typically more economical than shielded or fiber-optic based networks. However, at higher frequencies these cabling systems are hindered by interference and performance degradation.

Buying this cabling will not get you 10 Gb per second out of equipment built for 10/100 or 1 Gb, however. And until the IEEE passes a standard for 10 Gb copper, few OEMs will support it. Although it may be two years before 10 Gb becomes the next big thing, its arrival is inevitable. So any server room that needs a cabling upgrade would be wise to pay a little more for 10 Gb copper, to ensure it is ready for the next way of cabling. As it is backward-compatible, it will work with the old standards. And as far as the 30 percent to 40 percent added price hike for this state-of-the-art copper, most IT managers will tell you that the big hidden cost of cabling is pulling the cable, not buying it.

Sensible Sensors

It makes sense to know who is in your server rooms and to keep close track of environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and the presence of water leaks. (For a more thorough discussion of environmental sensors, see last week's Hardware Today.)

"In response to Sarbanes-Oxley and the need for greater security, many companies are integrating video monitoring and environmental sensors with their infrastructure management systems," said Richard Ptak an analyst with Ptak, Noel, and Associates. "It's smart to buy the best monitoring and management system you can afford."

One economical way to add good quality physical security to your server room is a BitSight temperature sensor from Javica. The $295 unit has a spare port for another sensor (e.g., water and airflow), and a unit priced at $395 monitors temperature and humidity with a spare port for another sensor. If you want to factor in a full-featured camera and enough sensors for a 10-foot-by-10-foot room, the bill comes to around $1,000.

High Fiber Diet

When techs are routing fiber around the server room or facility, you have to ensure it doesn't get knocked about unnecessarily. UTP and coaxial cabling, in particular, must be separated from fiber in horizontal pathways to avoid crushing. In addition, bends must be maintained below the manufacturer-specified bend diameter.

"Copper tends to crush or kink fiber," said ADC's Schmidt. This can result in a decrease in bandwidth and eventually the total loss of signal."

ADC's FiberGuide system is a flexible range of products to speed up fiber installations. A two-inch minimum bend radius is maintained regardless of what size raceway system or fitting is placed together. Cost-wise, this breaks down to less than $100 for a six-foot straightaway and slightly more than $100 per elbow and junction.

Making the Holidays Merry for the Server Room

Unlike most of us, the server room doesn't get any time off over the holiday season. So before you go standing under the mistletoe, opening all your gifts, or spinning the dreidel, spare a thought for the server room and add it to your holiday shopping list. Even a small present could have a big payoff in terms of efficiency, security or performance.

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