9 factors to consider for your server room

A photograph of a server room with several servers.

As businesses become more reliant on technology, servers have increasing importance to your IT infrastructure. But how do you store servers? What kind of space do they need?

Once upon a time, it was a common misconception to put servers and network equipment in closets or the smallest, out-of-the-way room in the middle. Is this the best practice for modern server rooms? What does a server room need?

We've outlined nine server room questions to discuss with your IT provider. These questions will help you evaluate your space and needs to help you select the best server room to keep your equipment and data safe.

For over 25 years, WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of satisfied clients develop effective IT strategies and maintain IT networks and equipment.

By reading this article, you will learn nine questions to help you choose your server room and why each question matters.

9 questions to ask about your server room

1. How many servers do you have?

The more servers or equipment you have, the more heat it will generate.

For example, a small organization with a single server may not need an entire server room. You may be able to set up a closet to accommodate the server without overheating.

However, a larger organization with multiple servers will need more space with proper cooling to keep the servers and equipment from overheating.

Structuring and storing the servers will also dictate how the heat is generated.

For example, if you may have a server rack that will accommodate 40 servers. This will cause a great deal of concentrated heat in a vertical space. However, splitting those servers over two racks—20 on each—may help distribute the heat a little, but it will require more lateral space.

2. Does the space have controlled airflow?

Your server room needs designated cooling airflow. A single vent connected to the central AC system may not meet your cooling needs. Therefore, you will need a reliable airflow system to run daily in your server room.

In addition, regardless of the weather outside, your server room must be kept cool.

If it's winter, your building is likely running heat. However, your server space must stay cool to battle the heat generated by the servers.

Again, the heat levels and cooling requirements will be determined by how many servers you use and what other hardware occupies the space. A single server will need sufficient airflow but will not require its own cooling system.

The more hardware you have, the more heat it generates and the more cooling and airflow you need to keep everything from overheating.

3. Is there enough space for someone to move around and behind the servers?

When servers and network equipment need maintenance, the IT technician must be able to access the server to check connections and hardware.

If the IT technician cannot enter the room or access the server, they cannot perform their job well or take extra time to move the server. Pulling or removing the server out is not ideal, risking disconnection.

Ideally, you should have two to three feet of accessible service space around the server.  

4. Is the space secure?

Server rooms should be lockable spaces, only accessed as needed by approved personnel. This prevents theft and preventable accidental damages.

Servers should also be in a space that won't disrupt others. For instance, your server room should not be accessed through someone's office. This way, an IT technician running maintenance does not disturb the person working in that office.

5. Are there water pipes?

Your server room must not have overhead water pipes.

Even great pipes may spring a leak, and servers are not waterproof.

To prevent the risk of water damage, construct your server room with no overhead water pipes.

6. What other structural aspects of the room should be considered?

The room's architecture and electrical structure affect your server room's organization.

Where are the outlets in relation to network jacks? Are they next to each other or across the room?

What is the room's floor like? Will server racks or shelving be stable? Can the rack be attached to the floor?

What kind of shelving will you use? Will you use floor racks or mounted shelves? Hardware is heavy, so you must ensure your shelving units or server racks have the proper support to keep them from falling over or tearing out drywall over time.

Adding a backer board is a safe way to mount electrical equipment without damaging drywall. Most shelving units are constructed to mount on wooden studs. However, many industrial buildings have metal studs instead.

A backer board is made to mount on metal studs. You can then attach your shelving unit or equipment to the backer board. A good backer board prevents heavy hardware from pulling shelves out of the drywall. Instead, server racks, shelving, and other mounted hardware have a secure base in the backboard.

7. Is it neat and orderly? Is everything labeled?

Server and hardware cables should be "neatly dressed," meaning zip tied, organized, labeled, and out of the way. In addition, there should be no loose cables to prevent tripping or accidentally unplugging the cable.

Everything in the server room should have a designated and labeled space. For example, you should have a marked area for internet service hardware to guarantee it does not take up unnecessary space.

It's also important to note that server rooms are not storage spaces. Paper in particular, should not be stored in the server room partly due to the heat. Instead, the area should only be for designated hardware.

Labeling everything in the server room is extremely helpful and time-saving. Cables, network jacks, servers, and all other devices or access points should be labeled. If a device shows an error, labeling makes it easy to identify the source, what areas of the network are affected, and what's connected to the hardware.

If items in a server room are not labeled, the IT technician must take additional time to test, identify, and troubleshoot to find what devices and areas are affected. Testing and identifying connections may take hours, so server and network issues take even more time to resolve.

8. Are my cable paths large enough and firestopped?

Cable pathways allow your cables to be supported and connect where they should. Network cables are much thicker than most electrical cables and need larger paths than their electrical counterparts.

Cable paths should be firestopped. Firestoppers are structures added to the cable path structure to seal openings and prevent fire from spreading through cable openings. This way, if a fire starts in the server room, it does not spread through the walls, floors, or ceilings via the cable paths.

Firestopping is often included in building safety codes.

9. What building codes affect my server room?

Server rooms often share spaces with electrical panels, which have strict building codes for safety. Building codes often dictate that electrical panels must have a certain amount of clearance space.

Different kinds of industries have specific safety codes. For example, a school will have distinct safety codes from a bank or a hospital.

Verify building safety codes when choosing your server room and setting it up. Keep specific factors like clearance and electrical panels in mind.

Next steps to choosing or improving your server room

When you're choosing a new office space, selecting your server room should not be an afterthought.

For new construction, talk to your architectural and engineering team (A&E Team) and your IT provider or internal IT team about your server room construction. If your IT provider is uncomfortable or unfamiliar with server room construction, your A&E or IT team should recommend an expert consultant.

If you are moving into an existing space, your IT provider or team can assess the rooms to make a server room recommendation.

The best space for a server room will have the following:

  1. Space for your required number of servers
  2. Reliable, consistent cooling airflow
  3. Space for technicians to move around the servers
  4. Ability to lock out unauthorized personnel
  5. No overhead water pipes
  6. Solid flooring and potentially a backer board for shelving or server racks
  7. Organization, neat cables, and labeling
  8. Suitable cable paths with firestopping
  9. Meets safety building codes, particularly around clearance and electrical panels

A good IT provider will be aware of these requirements and keep your server room neat, accessible, and well-maintained.

WEBIT Services has helped hundreds of clients improve and maintain their technology over the years.

If you are looking for a new IT provider, schedule a free 30-minute consultation to see how WEBIT Services can help.

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