Rack ’em & Stack ’em: Converting Tower Servers to Rackmount Servers

A lot of Deep Core Data’s smaller clients don’t have a data center for themselves; they have an assortment of “small office” servers sold by Dell, HP, or sometimes from smaller third-party vendors. These upright servers resemble desktop PCs, although they are often sleeker and more business-like.

Conversely, rackmount servers are the accepted standard for most large businesses. Almost everyone is familiar with the image of rows and rows of cabinets that have neat stacks of computers inside them, mounted on struts 19 inches apart, even if they have never been in a datacenter before. After all, a room full of servers with their lights all lit up and blinking can bring an instant high-tech feel to any sci-fi or hacker movie. The cabinets themselves cost anywhere from one thousand to a few thousands dollars, and putting servers, fans, power distribution units (what IT folks call power strips), and all the bits of hardware and infrastructure in there can cost as much as a small business server itself. So it’s no small wonder that vendors offer tower servers to small businesses; they just sit on a desk and have no additional costs.

However, as a business grows, there comes a time that upgrading to a data center capacity becomes necessary. Either it’s time to address uptime concerns, superior bandwidth, redundancy, or a variety of other reasons, eventually a company will need to move its servers to a purpose-built facility.  When that happens, the tower servers that have served the company so well will either need to be replaced, or moved into the racks.  So how does a tower to rackmount conversion happen?

The Lenovo ThinkServer, an example of a small business server. Image courtesy of newegg.com.

Before Deep Core Data did our conversion, we had a VMware cluster running on a tower server located in our office. It was built by an off-brand company that we had worked with in the past, and we were very happy with how the server performed. Unfortunately, the case would not fit in a 19” rack unless it stood up inside the rack, which would not be a very efficient use of space.  There wasn’t a way to convert the case, so we had to buy an entirely new rackmount case and move the server’s components into it. The new case cost around $200, and it took about 4 hours of work to dismantle the old server, move everything into the new case, and test the new configuration.

Be sure to request blue lighting to give your rack servers that extra high-tech feel. Image courtesy of balticservers.com.

This is not the only tower server to rackmount server conversion that we’ve done. Several clients have come to us with Dell tower servers that they need racked as well. Starting with their 12th generation servers, Dell began offering conversion kits to mount a tower server in a rack, which has made their servers more accessible, as so many of the parts are interchangeable. For about $100, we were able to pick up a conversion kit for their server, and it took about 30 minutes to convert the tower to a rackmount.  10 minutes and some muscle later, and we had it racked as securely in our datacenter as any server in a purpose-built rackmount case.

With older servers, we’ve had to come up with different solutions. We once installed a shelf built to hold 200lbs in a rack, and put a tower in on its side. Rackmount shelves are relatively cheap (around $80 for a basic model), and many tower servers are built around 18” tall just so that they can be mounted this way. Removing the rubber feet and attaching a few rubber grips to the new underside can get a tower server into the rack, although this is not an optimal arrangement. For a long-term solution, it’s better to explore other options.

Converting a server infrastructure from an office to a datacenter is just another one of those little problems that a successful tech company will encounter as it grows.  When it’s time to expand your small business’s server set-up, Deep Core Data can assist with the conversion to make the transition quicker, easier, and less of a drain on company resources. We have the knowledge and experience to rack up any kind of server in the configuration that works best for you.

About the Author:

Andrew is a technical writer for Deep Core Data. He has been writing creatively for 10 years, and has a strong background in graphic design. He enjoys reading blogs about the quirks and foibles of technology, gadgetry, and writing tips.

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