In a data-driven world, racks are where hardware modules like servers, hard disk drives, and other computing resources live. High-powered, durable frames in data centers (DC) worldwide offer scalability, protection, and accessibility to organizations’ most valuable assets today: data. But what is the software that fills these racks?
We look at why racks are the server storage method of choice, the range of software you can expect to find in a rack, and the rack infrastructure.
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Why Do We Keep Servers in Racks?
For decades, the world has seen digital tools become more advanced as they’ve grown smaller. The desire to hold more technology in less space has long been a driving force of product development, including servers. While servers have also shrunk, the demand for these high-powered blocks has skyrocketed.
Third-party and in-house data centers responsible for maintaining the world’s servers have developed the optimal physical and logical infrastructure to hold such power needed for supporting a network. Trial, error, and development have brought us the rack framework. Slightly differentiated by physical structure and components, the server rack has proven to be the best security, cooling, connectivity, and configuration framework.
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Rack Software Guide
We dive into the software contained in our metal, perforated friends. Most software comes pre-installed on the hardware fit for the frame when purchased. That said, open-source and proprietary software is widely available for installation on most rack modules as well.
Network Operating System (NOS)
A network OS is a specialized network operating system embedded into core network systems like servers, switches, routers, and firewalls. As we run through the other software operating within a rack, keep in mind that a NOS is a term often used to differentiate these devices from their user-friendly counterparts. Not built to be used by consumers nor do everything a computer or smart device can do, NOS software often has minimal multitasking capabilities.
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We here at ServerWatch know the meat of any rack is the servers. Today, these high-powered computers serve specialized purposes for the network, from web hosting to email and data storage. The most popular types employed include file servers, web servers, database servers, mail servers, FTP servers, proxy servers, etc.
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Switch ports are responsible for Layer-2 communication through TCP data transfers and UDP transmissions within a network. While SMB organizations might afford an unmanaged switch solution, most enterprises require switches that offer advanced management features. Managed and intelligent switches offer rack administrators the ability to manage the rack from a CLI, an embedded SNMP, or remotely via a web browser.
From the switch interface, rack managers can control ports, bandwidth and duplex, MAC filtering, STP, SPB, port mirroring, and link aggregation.
While switches enable traffic on the network, routers extend that connection to multiple networks via packets’ transfer. With a range of hardware and open-source software offerings, organizations can use and build a custom router to meet their needs or purchase one of the many enterprise-ready routers. Features that advanced router software can offer include wireless bridging, hotspot enabling, QoS traffic prioritization, adding SNMP, detailed diagnostic tools, and advanced security configurations.
Network UPS Tools (NUT) Software
A suite of power support devices – dubbed Network UPS Tools or NUT by one open-source project – support the power supply and electrical distribution essential for server requirements. These tools include:
- Uninterruptible power supply (UPS)
- Power distribution units (PDU)
- Power supply units (PSU)
- Automatic transfer switches (ATS)
NUT modules are critical aides to protecting the continuous operation of enterprise racks.
KVM Switch Software
DC administrators can control multiple servers via a single console, commonly known as a keyboard, video, mouse (KVM) system. KVM systems save costs and space by allowing administrators to move between rack segments and manage server activity without individual monitors and keyboards for every module. Innovation in this area is the rise of software-based KVM switches, offering an even shorter path to managing racks.
Hard disk drives (HDDs) are the last but certainly not the least of the components we cover in racks. To ensure continuous uptime, enterprise HDDs contain chassis cooling mechanisms, sensors to detect and correct vibration, and airflow management. Using a RAID array configuration dramatically diminishes the chance of data loss, and most enterprise vendors offer warranties of five years. Similar to other equipment listed, the hardware initially purchased isn’t permanently attached to the software, allowing server administrators flexibility in their vendor choice.
Now that we know the software in racks, it’s essential to know the context. As the engines that power the digital economy today, the framework, environment, and materials for racks play a critical role in optimizing performance and business continuity.
Types of Rack Frameworks
Rack frameworks, or the physical structures that servers and equipment fit into, usually break down into open frames, enclosed racks, and transportable or wall-mounted racks.
Historically, the most popular has been the open frame or 4-post server rack. With just four posts and open-air, open frame racks offer easy cabling access and unrestricted airflow. Similarly, open frame 2-post racks provide a small physical footprint with easy equipment access.
Enclosed racks or rack cabinets have closed or perforated side panels and front and back doors to access the rack’s inventory. With more metal assembly, rack enclosures cost more and require additional ventilation, but they also offer the most robust protection.
Transportable and Mountable Frames
Transportable and mountable racks are most pertinent to consumers and SMB organizations. Instead of using high posts or the extent of metal, wall-mounted and portable racks offer open and enclosed frame options for operations that require a small amount of server power.
Servers put in a lot of work to make organizations run smoothly, and the result can be enormous amounts of energy, heat, and sound. For optimal performance and fail-safe execution, the rack must be in an environment consisting of:
- Basic airflow and airflow management
- Cable and equipment management
- Thermal ducts and active heat removal
- Closed-coupled cooling
We’ve covered the rack perimeter, the conditions, and now, to the innards. Racks are most known for the array of servers providing critical business operations. Outside of these stackable high-powered computers, the remaining equipment aids and protects server functionality and performance.
Patch panels and cable managers help organize and route traffic, and you guessed it, all racks have their fair share of bolts, brackets, and securement hardware. Digital equipment that requires programming includes network switches, routers, network UPS tools, KVM switches, and storage units.
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Rack Software: Powering, Serving, Protecting
More than just the accessories that fill the metal cabinet and rigged shelves, the suite of rack software that powers data centers ensure servers’ continued operation. From managing multiple servers with a KVM switch to implementing enhanced security configurations for a network router, managing servers, racks, and the pertinent software are smoother than ever.
Of course, these are just the inherent applications tied to facilitating and supporting server performance; a market to help DC administrators design, implement, and monitor rack frameworks, as well as virtualization methods, continue to gain ground.
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