With the focus of the data centre industry often on issues such as power management, server technology and how to facilitate the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT), attention has been diverted away from what’s needed to protect an investment in IT equipment. Walk into any data centre and the first things that you are likely to see are cabinets – probably quite a few of them. For many people this fleeting acknowledgment is about as far as their interest in this fundamental aspect of the data centre infrastructure goes. With the focus on lowering power usage effectiveness (PUE), operating the latest server technology and working out how to prepare for the vast quantities of data that the Internet of Things (IoT) will create, many owners, operators and users of these facilities are failing to appreciate the role the cabinet.We are all – to a greater or lesser extent – guilty of creating this state of affairs. It’s also quite understandable that with the pressure for greater data centre energy efficiency and climate control that what goes on inside the cabinet has taken precedence over this piece of equipment itself. However, protecting an investment in IT equipment requires some serious thought and selecting the right cabinet is at the forefront of this process.The attitude that ‘it’s just a cabinet and they’re all the same’ creates issues that could be avoided both initially and in the future. It might come as a surprise to some to find out that leading manufacturers are designing products that not only enhance functionality but also offer greater flexibility, and have features that can save time and money.Features and benefitsAccess is an important consideration and next generation containment solutions like Cannon Technologies’ Smart Space cabinets incorporate sliding partition panels to increase cooling efficiency, enhance inter-cabinet security and make cross cabling between bayed cabinets more effective. Traditional designs utilise totally detachable side panels for maintenance or moves, adds and changes (MACs). However, when they are removed it can drastically reduce the efficiency of cold airflow within the cabinet by allowing hot air from the rear to mix with it, thereby reducing the effectiveness of the cooling system and increasing the amount of energy required to maintain the desired temperature. Panels that are removed for even the shortest period of time can totally spoil cold air/hot air separation and negate the benefits of an aisle containment system. Used in pairs, narrow partition panels can slide backwards and forwards to open cross cabling apertures between adjacent cabinets, or completely close off inter-cabinet access providing a highly secure solution. Either way, cooling efficiency is maximised without compromising access and they can be removed or added to bayed cabinets during the entire lifecycle of the installation. Full depth panels also maintain cool air provision and can be deployed between adjacent cabinets and utilised as end of row side panels.First past the postLooking at what needs to be achieved and purchasing the right cabinet to match makes perfect sense and no more is this so when it comes to ceiling access. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of cabinet selection and it’s not until an installer is faced with having to jigsaw holes into a toughened steel structure that the consequences of this oversight hits home. It might be more appropriate to have brush strips, removable roof sections or factory made holes to allow cables to go from front to back, or into the centre and up and down. When it comes to network cabinets, getting the cabling in can be made much easier with adjustable 19-inch mounting posts that allow easy access and universal server mounting, adding a valuable level of flexibility to an installation. The most important issue with patching is maintaining the bend radius of the cable, something that a cabinet with enough room and in-built flexibility will be able to facilitate. Furthermore, assessing the need for moulded finger cable entry glands in the roof and large cable apertures in the base could save valuable time and money in the long run.Features such as coloured raceway can also be invaluable when installing the cabling. Cable raceway is an important part of the overall cable management system and is usually configured in a grid format – coloured blue and red – providing two separate paths to each cabinet to achieve diverse route, or to house two parallel fibre optic and copper cabling systems. Although it might not be an obvious issue, one of the big mysteries of the data centre world is why cabinets continue to be specified in black. While it is true that black can hide scratches, scrapes, minor dents, and even dirt and dust, a white polyester epoxy powder coat finish increases visibility, reflects up to 80 per cent of the light and, as a result, can help to save around 30 per cent on the total lighting in a typical data centre. A white cabinet is also easier for installers to work in and the fact that it does show up imperfections should act as an early warning system for potential problems down the line. Size mattersAs a rule of thumb, it is always better to over-specify than under-specify, as any extra space will almost certainly be utilised by the next generation of server technology. However, some data centre designers are taking this attitude to the extreme by requesting cabinets that can accommodate weights over one and a half tons. This is, ridiculous unless the cabinet is for a UPS or battery rack. Finding enough equipment that weighs this much to test such a cabinet is difficult. To put this into perspective, the massive Huawei CE12816 core data centre switch only weighs 290kg, the biggest Cisco, fully stacked just under 450kg. Then there’s the issue of where to site over a ton’s worth of equipment – how will the building and floor support that level of weight, especially in a multi-floor environment?With ever-higher active equipment densities, perhaps the most important role that a cabinet performs is to mount kit in a way that allows it to be cooled efficiently. A cabinet plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of a cooling system and by controlling the air temperature, server components at the board level are kept within a manufacturer's specified temperature and/or humidity range.It’s an issue that’s not going away any time soon. Research from DCD Intelligence, a division of DatacenterDynamics found that the number of high-density cabinets and servers – those over 10kW per cabinet – as a proportion of total cabinets rose to 25.2 per cent in 2014. That is quite substantial but it includes the IT service provision sector and an increasing number of end users deploying cloud or virtualisation within their own systems. This means that a handful of hyper-powered cabinets are replacing a larger number of lower density products.Safe and secureWith any data network there is always a risk that the information that flows through it could be intercepted and used for malicious purposes. Therefore, security should rank highly on any list of priorities and restricting access to cabinets is vital in order to protect the business critical information stored within them. A cabinet is often the first line of defence, so using locking systems such as swing handles that are highly secure, robust, ergonomic, and can be retrofitted, adds a valuable layer of protection, especially when installed with an electronic keypad. A locking system will usually be used in conjunction with a personal identification number (PIN), Bio or radio frequency identification (RFID) device and locks are now available with keys that can record when a cabinet is opened through the use of an audited electronic key.Life styleWe all love a bargain but the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ should be remembered when it comes to purchasing cabinets. While cheaper cabinets are usually fine for the short-term, it should be remembered that a future proof option will stand the test of time.Let’s be conservative and say that the average cabinet will need to last 10 years. Based on the assumption that the IT equipment housed within it will be refreshed every two to three years, it means that a cabinet that does not have the capacity to adapt could quickly become redundant.There is also a growing trend for old cabling to be left in-situ during an IT equipment refresh, as the cost of taking it out and disposing of it is prohibitive. Therefore, having enough raceway to be able to cope with any additional cabling in the future could make it easier to upgrade and save time and money. On the subject of saving time and money, simply talking to the equipment manufacturer rather than buying the cheapest available product from the Internet could avoid many of the common problems concerning cabinet specification. Leading companies offer semi-customisation services and they will also be able to anticipate any issues by using their vast experience to help make sure that the right cabinets are selected first time.Look againA cabinet is much more than a steel box to conveniently locate equipment – it has a vital role to play in the overall operational effectiveness of a data centre. Therefore, I hope you’ll agree that it's time to re-evaluate its importance and give the humble cabinet the consideration and respect it deserves.
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