Do Rack-Mount Servers Actually Need to Be in a Rack?


When you are setting up a personal server for the first time or simply seeking to upgrade or update, you may wonder just what hardware components are necessary versus what is unnecessary. Consider racks for example, do you absolutely have to have a rack for your server? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has some helpful answers to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Photo courtesy of Tom Raftery (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader GoldieLocks wants to know if it is absolutely necessary to have a rack to place a replacement server in:

I can get some decent deals on eBay for rack-mount servers (described as, for example, 2U rack-mount server) that I am looking at to replace my Synology NAS.

Would I be able to just buy this 2U server and sit it under my desk somewhere, or is it a requirement that you absolutely have to have a rack to put it in?

What does a rack give you that sitting on its own somewhere does not?

Does GoldieLocks really need a rack to place a replacement server in?

The Answer

SuperUser contributors TheUser1024 and KlaymenDK have the answer for us. First up, TheUser1024:

You do not necessarily need a rack or cabinet, but here are some points to keep in mind though:

  • If you keep it under your desk, it will accumulate dust.
  • The fans of such servers can be rather loud (putting it mildly)! You really do not want that near you all the time!
  • The power consumption might be much higher than that of a SOHO NAS box.
  • Rack-mountable servers are 19 inches wide and might be twice that in length.
  • If you get an old server with parallel SCSI (not SAS), you will not be able to easily put in SATA-HDDs for regular SOHO-NAS Systems.
  • Upgrading parts might be more difficult since they use server hardware (RAM, CPU, HDD, etc.).

A rack has the advantage that you can mount more than 10 servers in a single rack easily, and if you have them on rails, still be able to access them (slide out, open up, swap parts etc.). Also, the issues of cable management, airflow management, and power distribution come to mind.

Followed by the answer from KlaymenDK:

If what you are looking for is a way to avoid buying an expensive rack, you might be able to make do with a (stack of) IKEA LACK tables.

This might be the most official site about it: The LackRack

Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

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