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Whether you’re setting up an entire data center or need to tidy up the corner of your office supply room, the best network server racks and enclosures will not only help keep all of your networking equipment organized but also ensure everything is well-ventilated and prevent folks from knocking things over or tripping on cables.
These versatile racks can mount routers, switches, and even telecommunications and audio equipment.
Options range from tall floor-mounted units designed for dedicated server rooms to smaller enclosed wall-mounted cabinets with locks to discourage non-technical folks from touching critical equipment.
Supports most types of equipment
Moveable, but won’t fit through most doorways
If you’re looking for a solid and affordable full-sized rack, Navepoint has you covered with this four-post 42U rack capable of handling everything from telecom equipment and network switches to full-blade server assemblies. It supports all standard 19-inch rack mount equipment, with an adjustable rack depth from 17 inches to 32.5 inches, giving you more than enough room for Dell, HP, and IBM server sizes. The sturdy four-post design ensures that everything will stay in place, with an 881-pound weight capacity, and you can either floor-mount it in your server room or use the included four casters to keep it more mobile, although the 82-inch height means that you likely won’t be able to move it from room to room.
Good for shared wiring closets
Not for servers or network appliances
Weighing a hefty 71.2 pounds, the durable and solid Navepoint 12U deluxe IT server network rack is an excellent choice if you want a wall-mounted option. Offering standard-sized 19-inch rack-mount equipment, the 12U offers a maximum rail depth of 13 inches with a total usable space measurement of 16 inches, front to back. The removable side panels allow IT administrators or anyone working on managing network servers to gain easy access before and after installation. The top and bottom offer open brackets for easy cable and wire access, while the locking glass door protects the equipment from physical intrusion. The removable side panels also provide venting slots and dual built-in fans for maintaining equipment cooling.
Adjustable depth makes it capable of handling a wide variety of equipment
Doesn't come with enough mounting hardware
Whether it's traditional servers, network-attached storage devices, or telecommunications equipment, the Startech 25U adjustable-depth open-frame server rack cabinet is ready for the challenge. Capable of supporting up to 1,200 pounds of equipment, the Startech 25U offers a wide range of mounting depth adjustments from 22 to 40 inches deep. The four-post rack is entirely customizable depending on your needs, while optional accessories such as casters, leveling feet, or cable management hooks are all included in the box. The open nature of the Startech 25U does mean there's no security at the rack level, so it's best utilized in an already secure area. Ultimately, the Startech 25U offers excellent storage in a not-too-large package, but it's still within industry rack standards, so it'll fit most equipment.
Perforated side panels allow for venting
With a maximum load capacity of up to 200 pounds, the Tripp Lite 6U wall-mount server enclosure is a well-featured option. The heavy-duty steel frame can support 19-inch equipment with perforated door and side panels that allow maximum airflow. It's lock-friendly to prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to network equipment, and the door can open left or right, so it's adaptable for various room spacing. Additionally, the Tripp Lite 6U offers extra niceties such as top and bottom cable ports for maintaining cable organization, which can quickly get out of control depending on how much equipment you have inside the 16.5-inch deep rack. Mounting is simple and can be done with optional casters for easy transportation, or it's ready for wall-mounting right out of the box.
Hinged design allows easy access to rear panels
Great for wiring in shared storage spaces
Too shallow for some equipment
Requires purchase of additional mounting kits
Startech's 8U RK819WALLO wall mount is an excellent option for maximum airflow. The open-frame design lends itself to helping maintain cooling temperatures, which can lead to a longer equipment lifespan without the need for excess fans. The hinged design allows easy access to rear panels to begin mounting standard-sized 19-inch servers or network equipment (and continually reach them post-installation). Capable of supporting gear up to 140 pounds, the high-quality steel construction and four-post design offer peace of mind and security that your equipment is stable.
Not deep enough for full-size servers
Packaged with casters for easy movement and re-positioning, the Navepoint four-foot 22U open-frame 19-inch network server rack is ideal for ever-changing IT environments. With a maximum depth of 23 inches, the 22U is already sized for traditional 19-inch mount equipment. It supports a total weight capacity of 661 pounds, with an adjustable depth down from 10 to 16.75 inches, all on a server rack that’s 48 inches in height. Flat-packed for easy shipping, the instructions help assemble the 22U in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, NavePoint has no cable management accessories, which can be easily purchased separately online.
Extra height for smaller server rooms
Deep enough to support any equipment
May require extra ceiling space for cooling
May need to be bolted down for stability
If more than a standard 42U rack is needed, look no further than Navepoint's 45U behemoth, which provides an extra three rack mount slots so you can cram all your equipment into a single column and leave enough room for proper cooling. With a 1,322-pound weight capacity and an adjustable rail depth of up to 40 inches, there's nothing that this beast can't handle. The four-post open frame rack includes numbered mounting holes to make it easier to install your equipment (although you'll need to supply clip nuts as the holes aren't pre-threaded on this model). The open design makes it easy to access cabling and equipment, yet the posts are made of high-quality cold-rolled steel for ultimate durability. The only catch with this one is that it's so tall that you'll want to ensure you have enough clearance above it for air circulation, and depending on your server room layout and what you mount in it, you may need to bolt it down to keep it from tipping over.
If you have even a couple of network servers in your office, a good rack can be indispensable in helping keep things organized, and it's important to remember that these aren't just for servers either; network switches and hubs, telecom equipment, and even uninterruptible power supplies can all be neatly organized into a rack or enclosure to keep them under control.
A wide variety of rack and enclosure styles are available, from basic open concept two- and four-post systems to ones with locking doors and integrated cooling, and they come in all sizes, too. What to pick will depend mainly on your needs, but you might find the options slightly intimidating if you're not a seasoned IT professional. Fortunately, there are only a few simple things you need to know.
You may think that network server racks are the kind of equipment that only large enterprise organizations need. After all, they bring to mind images of sprawling data centers, with endless rows of servers and other networking gear lined up like a robot army, and there's certainly no doubt that organizations with that kind of equipment need a way to keep it all properly and efficiently organized and managed.
However, even small businesses can benefit from a server rack to keep their equipment organized and uncluttered while ensuring its safety and security. A good network server rack or enclosure will provide enough room for the equipment that you need while keeping both your gear and the accompanying cables out of harm's way, and they're not just for dedicated server rooms either; in fact, if you have your servers and network equipment in a shared space like a supply room or utility closet, a good server rack or enclosure can be even more critical. We can't count the stories we've heard where a delivery person or office worker has brought down an entire company's network by tripping over a cable.
The first and most obvious thing you'll want to consider is how much you want to put into your rack, not just now but into the future.
Server racks are usually measured in "rack units," representing the standard sizes of rack-mountable equipment. Very thin "pizza-box" servers and network switches are usually one unit each, while larger servers and hard disk arrays could take up three, five, or more units. These are expressed with a number followed by the letter "U," so a "42U" rack can handle 42 rack units of equipment.
42U is the standard size server rack used by most larger organizations—it works out to around 6 feet in height—and is, therefore, the most common. However, it's possible to get racks and enclosures in slightly larger sizes—up to 45U—and much smaller sizes, going down to 6U for a small unit that could be used in shared spaces like utility closets. Remember that you should not only plan for future expansion but also leave some room between some of your equipment for cooling purposes, especially if you're not putting it into a specially climate-controlled equipment room.
However, the "U" measurement only covers the height of the rack, and it's also important to consider how much depth you'll need based on what you're going to put into it. A shallow enclosure offering around 13 to 17 inches of depth will be pleasing if it's only for network switches and telecom equipment. Most server equipment runs deep—usually about 40 inches—and you'll need a four-post rack to support the back end.
Note that the maximum depth of the rack doesn't matter for most lighter equipment like network switches since these typically only need to be supported by the front posts. Racks with only two mounting posts are often used where only network switches and telecom devices need to be installed.
Lastly, rack width is standard, with almost all server and network equipment racks at 19 inches wide. Whether you're mounting larger servers or network switches, if they're rack-mountable, they'll all come in the same width.
Many rack-mountable servers offer the option to be mounted using rails. In this configuration, a pair of standard rails are mounted to the rack, screwed into all four posts, and then the server, which has the corresponding rails mounted on the sides, slides into the rack, just like a drawer going into a cabinet.
This provides additional server stability and lets you mix and match servers of different depths since the rails always run the full rack depth. Some professionals prefer to use rails for everything in their racks, including smaller and lighter network switches, but rails are usually only necessary for heavier equipment like servers.
Using rails also allows you to efficiently access your servers for maintenance and upgrades simply by sliding them out like a drawer, which is especially important when you have more than two or three servers in a rack since it's much more of a hassle to have to unmount a server completely when all you need to do is upgrade some RAM or change a hard drive.
Where you plan to install your rack will also impact what kind of rack you choose and may even limit your choices. You'll not likely be picking up a full-sized 42U rack if you only have a cubbyhole available, and you may not want an open rack if you're installing it in an area that's more highly trafficked, like a photocopier room or supply room.
Most racks can also be secured to a wall or floor for added stability, which you should consider doing, especially with taller racks. Still, on the other hand, if you have the space and a relatively isolated area, some racks offer support for wheels to allow you to move them around your server room when necessary.
In considering where your rack will be located, remember that computer equipment generates a lot of heat, and the more you have, the hotter it gets. If you have a climate-controlled server room, then an open rack will be fine, but since most small businesses can't afford to dedicate a whole room just for networking equipment, you'll probably need to give this a bit more thought.
Some enclosures designed for networking equipment, like switches, provide cooling fans, which can help. Still, even with this at your disposal, you'll want to make sure that you install your rack or enclosure in a well-ventilated area, and if you're putting a lot of equipment into it, be sure to leave some space in between. For example, if you have 26 rack units of equipment to mount, consider buying a 42U rack to space things out and allow for better airflow.
It's also possible to buy rack-mountable fans that generally fit into a 1U space to provide additional cooling support, but you'll still need to leave room around these for airflow.
While large businesses can deal with physical security at the server room door, most smaller organizations don't have that luxury, and chances are that you'll be installing your servers and other network equipment in a location that other people will have access to.
Since good network security is highly dependent on limiting physical access to the actual servers and network switches, if your equipment is going to be in an area that's generally accessible to staff, you may want to consider getting a closed rack that can be locked.
Also, remember that physical security is often just as much about preventing mistakes by non-technical employees as it is about preventing attacks by malicious hackers. True story: We once visited a remote office where a well-meaning employee had turned off the server to save electricity because they never saw anybody using it.
While you'd think a hole would be standardized, there are at least three types of screw holes you'll find in modern server racks: threaded round holes, unthreaded round holes, and unthreaded square holes.
With many generic racks, you'll choose either threaded or unthreaded holes. While threaded holes may use various thread types, 12-24 is generally the most common. Threaded racks also usually have thicker posts since they need to support the threads without risking cross-threading.
As a rule, racks with threaded holes are great for network switches, audio equipment, telecom equipment, and other devices that don't use rails. You'll generally screw these in directly to your rack posts, and having a threaded hole will save you the trouble of messing with nuts to hold your screws in behind the posts.
However, if you primarily use rail-mounted equipment like network servers, you'll want to get a rack with unthreaded holes, as it's much easier to install rails in these racks. While you may still find some with round, unthreaded holes, these have been supplanted in recent years with square holes, which are much easier to install rails into.
Don't worry if you're mixing and matching rail-mounted and non-rail-mounted equipment in the same rack, as you can easily snap cage nuts into square rack holes to effectively convert them into threaded holes for your equipment that doesn't use rails. Alternatively, you could use rails to mount everything to avoid cage nuts altogether.
Not all racks are created equally regarding what comes in the box, so you'll want to read the fine print. Some of the more inexpensive racks give you threaded holes and expect you to come up with the mounting screws yourself.
Racks with unthreaded holes will usually include a collection of at least a few cage nuts, but you'll almost always have to purchase rails separately from the rack; depending on the vendors involved, you may get rails when buying a rack-mountable server, but this isn't always the case either.
The good news is that threaded racks use standard-sized screws, so it's not too hard to find more screws should you need them down the road, but make sure you know what you're getting with the rack itself so that you know what else you'll need to have everything ready to install once it arrives.
Navepoint is a midwestern U.S. company that’s become one of the leading third-party manufacturers of server racks, network device enclosures, and related accessories. Its products run the gamut from huge 45U extra-height four-post racks to smaller 12U lockable cabinets. Chances are that if there’s something you need for your server room, Navepoint offers it. Unlike OEM racks—those sold by big manufacturers like IBM, Dell, and HP—you’ll usually find Navepoint’s options are more affordable and of at least equal quality.
Startech is a well-known “jack-of-all-trades” Canadian company that’s been making a wealth of computer accessories since the mid-eighties, ranging from cables to docking stations, USB hubs, mounts, video adapters, and pretty much every other accessory you could imagine needing for your computer system. Naturally, this includes server management hardware, too. While they don’t offer quite the same wealth of higher-end racks and enclosures, they provide some great, affordable options for smaller businesses that aren’t looking to outfit a large, dedicated server room.
In addition to the mounting gear that you’ll need to get your equipment into your rack, you’ll find that several other rack-mountable components can be used to make for a smoother installation, and depending on your setup, you’ll want to consider at least some of these, too.
Simple metal rack-mountable shelves are available from various manufacturers that can be very handy for placing smaller pieces of equipment like wireless access points and hubs that can’t be mounted into a rack.
If you’re installing servers into a rack, you’ll also want to add a keyboard and a monitor. While you can use a shelf for this if you have the space, rack-mountable keyboard trays and even flatscreen LCD panels can fold down into a 1U rack space when not in use.
If you’re looking to install more than a few servers, you’ll also want to consider adding a keyboard-video-mouse (KVM) switch into the mix so you can easily switch between controlling different servers without juggling multiple keyboards and screens.
Other accessories you can add to your rack include lockable keyboard drawers and additional equipment drawers that can fit into a 1U or 2U space, as well as rack-attachable patch panels and cable guides to keep all of the wires that are coming out of your equipment from turning into a tangled mess.
The height of a server rack is usually expressed in “rack units,” abbreviated with a U suffix. A single rack unit has a height of 1.75 inches, representing the height of a typical switch, router, or slim “pizza box” server. A standard-sized 42U server rack is 73.5 inches in height (42 x 1.75), and different servers and other rack-mountable equipment should also list their size in rack units so you can quickly tell how much space each one will take up. For example, a 3U server will take up three 42 units on a standard rack.
Checking the rack unit height of your existing equipment and any other servers or routers you plan to buy will easily allow you to calculate the rack size you need. Still, as long as it’s big enough to fit in the room where you plan to install it, it’s always a good idea to go a bit larger to give you room for future expansion. There’s no harm in leaving extra space; you can even buy rack-mountable trays and storage drawers.
While it’s always better not to pack a rack to capacity if you can avoid it, just about any modern server or router designed for rack-mounted handles ventilation through the front and back; while it’s usually not crucial in most cases to leave space above and below your equipment, you should leave enough open air behind your rack to give the hot air somewhere to go.
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