Cabinets Are More Than Big Metal Boxes

How do cabinets impact operational costs?

This question is not asked enough by data center designers, owners or managers as they build-out new whitespace. Cabinets are the foundation of the data center’s physical infrastructure, used throughout the life cycle of the facility. IT equipment that runs the applications are contained within them, the cabling that connects the equipment to the users and the LAN/SANs are terminated and managed in them, power is distributed within them, and cooling is channeled through them. They are also the most visible infrastructure element, and how they look and fit together is often an indicator of how a data center is run and managed.

Why then are they frequently taken for granted, simply considered “big metal boxes”? Why isn’t there more emphasis on cabinets being considered an asset that helps reduce operational costs?

Consider the impact of the cabinet size. Most standard server cabinets are 24” (600mm) wide. This width was established as a result of the standardization of the 19” racks that evolved from early telephony relay and railroad signal racks. Obviously things have changed since that was established in 1934, and the standard width does not always provide enough space to allow optimum IT equipment deployment and use.

For example, as server power densities and the number of servers installed in cabinets creeps higher, ensuring those devices can be cooled adequately becomes a challenge. Cabling behind the servers can interfere with the exhaust air flow, raising the temperature in the cabinet. This results in higher energy costs as server fans speed up, managers lower the data center set point, increase the volume of cooling air, or all of the above.

IT equipment with higher power densities and the need for redundant power paths means that more space is required for rack level PDU’s. Using a wider server cabinet allows the PDU’s and data cabling to be managed away from the exhaust air flow.

Another cost consideration is the time spent by technical staff working inside the cabinet making moves, adds and changes. Growing equipment and cabling density, short windows of availability in which to make changes, and the risk of service interruption make it increasingly costly to be inside the cabinet for too long. Features such as dual hinged doors, hinged side panels, and cable management fingers that align with rack spaces to speed and simplify access reduce the time required for MAC’s. Given the frequency of server refreshes and the cost of technical staff and cabling contractors making it fast and easy to work within the cabinets can save significant costs over the life of the data center.

Another significant, incremental operational cost that adds up over time is the loss of cooling capacity through gaps and holes in the cabinets themselves. These allow cooling air to recirculate within the cabinet or not go where it needs to. Cooling air is measured in CFM’s (Cubic Feet Minute) and depending on the cooling method a single CFM can cost as much as $2.80. A single cabinet with gaps large enough to allow a single cfm to be wasted per hour can cost over $25,000 in the course of a year. A carefully designed cabinet minimizes this leakage and will also be offered with a range of sealing accessories, such as blanking panels and ducting that ensure maximized air separation.

These costs may seem somewhat inconsequential when compared to overall data center operational costs. As a cabinet manufacturer we understand first hand just how much of an impact the “big metal boxes” have and include integral cable management, easy access features and thermal management accessories to manage and reduce those costs on an ongoing basis.

Thanks for reading. We would love to hear about your opinions on this topic.

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