IPIQ: Delivering Professional-Quality Rack-Based Solutions
Installing an easy-to-manage and aesthetically pleasing rack-based IP Network requires discipline, planning and even a little bit of artistic flair. When installed as part of a home or small business network that includes AV equipment, proper organization and aesthetics can be especially critical to the user experience and value perception.
While there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for designing and installing a functional, manageable and nice-looking rack-based system, a lot of great tools and products are available to help you deliver professional-looking solutions. With a little planning, the right tools and equipment, and a reasonable eye for aesthetics, your customers will be glad they selected you to do the job.
Here are some tips that have saved me both time and sanity over the years.
What Should I Look for in a Rack?
There are an astounding number of rack options, heights, sizes and styles. Some things to consider:
AV vs. IT-based installations: Whether you select a traditional IT rack or an AV rack may very well depend upon the equipment being installed. IT racks are designed primarily for use with traditional IT equipment in which the I/O and cabling is on the front of the rack. This can make it easy for troubleshooting and network monitoring, but has drawbacks in terms of aesthetics. AV racks are typically shallower in depth, while also enabling a cleaner installation by encouraging the use of equipment with rear-facing I/O so that cabling is hidden in the back.
Air flow and cooling: Keeping the rack cool is vital to the function and longevity of the equipment installed. Depending on where the rack will be located and the air flow conditions of that location, you may need to augment the rack’s cooling capabilities. Multiple cooling options abound, with the only truly limiting factor being the noise level tolerated. Many silent or nearly silent options are available with ducting options to fit any install.
Equipment width: While 19 inches is the traditional standard for rack-mounted network hardware, some vendors make custom sizes for other types of equipment. Check what size of rack your equipment requires.
Security options: With thousands of dollars of equipment on the line, select a rack that helps meet the customer’s security goals. Locking cabinets and tinted door glass can help keep prying eyes and hands out of the network.
Ethernet cable comes in a variety of color and connector options. Using different colors for different jobs (i.e. internet feed is black, data network is blue, VoIP phones are red) can dramatically decrease troubleshooting time and make additions to the network easier. If possible, plan your install ahead of time so you can pick premade cable lengths in the desired colors. For custom lengths, add a spool of wire that matches the color scheme you have chosen. Also, choose the right cable ends, as RJ45 crimp-type ends are not all created equal. I like to spend a little more up front and get an end that can support multiple duty cycles.
Don’t Overlook Power Management
Use a rack-mounted power strip to keep the rack clean and more easily manage power cords. IP-based power switches are becoming more popular and can be used to remotely monitor power, reboot a machine, or power down a system on a schedule. Also consider using battery backup to increase fault tolerance and minimize equipment failures. When planning for power needs, keep growth in mind so there is capacity for additional devices that will surely be added.
Label, Label, Label
Investment into a good-quality labeler is a must. With any kind of network, labeling the lines, devices and even rack shelves can save you a lot of headaches. Assuming there are other contractors coming in behind you, labels will minimize potential conflicts and help indicate where additional devices should be connected to the network.
Ports on the Front or Ports on the Back?
If installing mostly IP networking gear, most of your equipment probably has ports on the front. AV equipment, however, typically has ports on the back. A few IP networking vendors (including Luxul) support both types of solutions, so regardless of your customer requirements, you have network equipment options that will meet their needs. Pay attention to front panel colors to keep everything as uniform as possible. Also, don’t overlook the importance of consistency with LED colors. Nothing is cooler than a rack that has the same LED color scheme for all devices. The Luxul AV Series, for example, allows you to select blue or green LEDs with the flip of a switch.
Keep it Tidy with Cable Management
Proper cable management can turn a nightmare of cables into a simple, clean and more manageable system. A few considerations:
• Use Velcro wraps rather than zip ties when bundling cables together as well as mounting them to a rack chassis. This allows you to make changes without having the hassle of cutting and retying zip ties.
• Wiring ducts can be used for easy and elegant distribution of cables within the rack. Ducts are usually available in different colors and easy-to-label panels to keep your data, audio, video and power lines separate.
• Patch panels indicate Ethernet locations throughout the home, while providing a central location from which to manage and troubleshoot the wire runs within the home.