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Essentials of Rack Integration
Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By Stuart Main, Steatite

 

fig 1Rack integration is a complex task with many potential pitfalls that even the most knowledgeable of IT managers and systems engineers may not have fully considered. This activity requires adeptness in a number of different fundamental areas and a great deal of relevant experience built up over a long period of time. The following article will discuss each of these areas in turn and look at how the outsourcing of rack integration projects has considerable appeal.

Fundamental design aspects – All too often the various items of hardware that need to be fitted into a rack are sourced without adequate consideration first being given to whether it is actually physically possible to build and cable the rack, while adequately supporting, powering and cooling all of the hardware involved. This has the potential to cause significant project delays and cost overruns. An in-depth understanding of what hardware needs to incorporated into a rack, how it is going to be cabled up, which constituent devices will generate significant heat and the type of environment that it will be deployed in are key to ensuring that the design achieves maximum effectiveness.

Customisation – Taking an off-the-shelf product and tweaking it for a specific application often leads to a compromise in the overall capability of the solution or conversely means that hardware is over specified for the job in hand. This can potentially result in a dissatisfied end customer that faces having to pay more than they originally anticipated for a solution that doesn’t actually do everything they need it to.

Operating environment – Installing a standard data centre rack on a ship or submarine is never going to end well. Conversely putting a rack through extensive shock, vibration and temperature testing and then using it in an air conditioned server room is clearly just a waste of time and money. Correctly understanding the environment where the rack will be installed is therefore vital to guaranteeing it will have a long and trouble free service life, while also ensuring that excessive investment doesn’t get made in places where it is not needed. A strong grasp of EMC, cooling design and shock/vibration are all going to be called for when implementing a suitable rack for military, industrial or commercial applications, regardless of the environmental challenges involved.

Project management – Modern rack integration projects can be complex, with potentially 100s of individual components and 10s of different suppliers involved. If the whole process is not orchestrated in an effective manner, errors, delays and additional expense can all be entailed unnecessarily.

Documentation – Building something right first time is vital, but depending purely on memory to build the next one means that it is certainly going to take longer, end up being different and possibly result in mistakes being made. If you’ve got different people building the next rack, then these issues can be multiplied. Nobody wants to receive what they expect to be identical products only to find that they are in fact cabled or labelled differently, or where servers are located in different places. It would, as a consequence, cause significant problems to emerge from a support, maintenance and certification perspective. This is why detailed documentation is of such great value.

When outsourcing something as complex as rack integration, you need to be 100% confident that the end solution will be built to specifications and standards that your end customers expect from you. Whether it is in relation to a custom industrial computer or a fully integrated rack, Steatite’s meticulous attention to detail, combined with decades of experience, has helped to position the company as a recognised industry leader. Our engineering staff’s comprehensive knowledge of computing technology and their complete awareness of end users’ unique requirements means that every system they are responsible for developing is able to deliver optimum performance.

By partnering up with Steatite, clients have been able to benefit from our longstanding track record in rack integration – working with them at every stage, from initial design right through to final delivery. The costly mistakes that could occur if the work was done in house can thus be avoided and everything is done right first time. The expertise of our engineering team allows them to model the complete rack and hone the design before any hardware is even purchased. For the hardware that they are asked to select, they will always chose components that are the best fit for the application and that are expected to be in production for the longest possible period of time (typically 5-7 years for our industrial computers). This helps to keep the associated costs down, while maximising the amount of time that we can supply and support any rack build for.

Steatite takes a ‘measure twice’ approach to every aspect of the design of an integrated rack, meaning a second engineer will go through a proposed build in detail to make sure everything is in order before the design is approved for procurement and production to begin. Our engineering team can customise virtually any aspect of a rack build, from the cabinet itself to the servers inside. The thorough working knowledge of EMC, cooling design and shock/vibration that our staff possess means that they can design the most suitable rack for any given application scenario. For each rack integration project we undertake there is a named project manager, who will have overall control and knowledge of all aspects of the build and logistics, guaranteeing that things go smoothly. By keeping a detailed record of what is being built, with clear instructions, photos and diagrams, consistency of all of our racks is guaranteed, irrespective of who builds them and when the work was done. Commissioning, support and maintenance tasks are simplified by the inclusion of detailed manuals that are written specifically for that build.

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