Navigate the risks of rack integration

March 24, 2016 OpenSystems Media

The demand for fully populated and functional rack cabinets is set to increase with the evolution of technology thereby offering enhanced application capabilities. Engineers competent in rack integration will become an increasingly valuable asset as organizations look to outsource projects due to time, risk, and complexity concerns.

Computing platforms and components are constantly increasing in both scale and complexity. This drives the need for businesses to reduce the footprint and increase the density of equipment by way of integrating them into 19-in. rack enclosures. This, in turn, can cause a unique but additional strain on a company’s technical resources.

Sectors most in need of high-power and high-performance rack systems include automation, medical, and energy, but this need is spreading across many more industries. Within these industries, applications are often considered as mission-critical, meaning racks must be capable of continuous operation and as such, must be specified for both reliability and extended longevity.

The integration process itself is inherently complex by its nature, and has the potential to create a multitude of risks if left in the hands of time pressed engineers with vastly divergent tasks, or worse, a business looking to save some money by attempting it alone with limited experience.

To optimise 19-in. rack cabinets for success, projects must be considered holistically to assess, counteract, and mitigate risk factors. After gaining a full understanding of the function the rack is intended to perform and how long for, it’s crucial to perform an onsite assessment to evaluate any challenges imposed by its environment. Considering these aspects before undertaking any design work plays a big part in certifying that once the rack is built, the chances of any unwanted surprises arising from deployment are minimized.

For designers and engineers, a critical part of integration is to pre-empt and understand complexities from the project’s outset. Component selection plays an important part here. Hardware should be selected on the basis of what best fits the individual longevity, projected availability, and performance requirements of the application. Components should be recommended based on empirical data and experience, using proven technologies wherever possible.

Two of the most crucial aspects of a successful rack design are ensuring that it has enough power for continuous operation, and that it can be effectively cooled. This will provide assurances that the rack won’t overheat when demand on performance is at its peak. To this end, integrators should perform accurate power and thermal budgets using the performance criteria and knowledge of the operating environment as a starting point. The budget calculations will tell precisely how much power the rack will need to consume during its operation, what means of power supply will be required within the enclosure, and what technologies are best suited to maintain the optimum temperatures in the overall unit.

The power and thermal budgets will also prove useful in developing strategies in case of rack failure, to minimize downtime. These strategies can include Mean Time to Repair (MTTR) and Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) calculations.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Designer engineers must also consider compliance testing, cable layout and management, full build documentation, technology refreshes, and so on. Despite the seemingly never-ending list of aspects to consider and risks to overcome, integrating a rack optimized for reliability can be achieved.

Note: Captec held an event to provide businesses with the tools needed to improve their integration decision making. In conjunction with Dell, Rittal, and Kontron, Captec’s Rack Integration Masterclass highlights areas of risk, with valuable advice centered on how to mitigate them.

Jake MacWhirter heads up the rack integration department Captec. With over 18 years of experience in electronics, Jake draws on his knowledge of product design, racked solutions, process design, and management to meet the diversity of challenges that fast-paced technology evolution and bespoke requirements will bring.

Jake MacWhirter, Product Manager, Captec
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