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Limited space in your building for smart equipment? No problem

June 21, 2022
An intelligent building requires a lot of support infrastructure, which in turn requires room for management platforms, controllers, and cabling. For retrofits short on auxiliary space, try these workarounds, writes contributor Andrew Froehlich.

Finding enough physical space to deploy smart building platforms, cabling, OT, and IoT is a constant struggle. This is particularly true for older commercial facilities built when data-center and network closet rooms didn’t exist and were not considered in the original floor plans. As such, IT and operations staff today often work in close quarters and must utilize every inch they can. This has led to innovative lines of equipment racks and cable management systems that prioritize space-saving and thus can deploy and organize smart building components in compact areas.

Modular and accessible racks

Flexible space that can adjust to ever-changing technologies and their physical footprints is essential in buildings today. As a result, network and server racks are designed with modularity and accessibility in mind. Product features, such as adjustable mounting rails, that conform to differing equipment width, depth, and height requirements are common. Additionally, many racks can have components, cabling, and accessories mounted and unmounted easily within live environments. Rack enclosure side panels also now come in adjustable sizes that can be mounted before or after equipment is installed inside the rack.

Granular physical security

Occasionally, IT must share data-center and network closet space with facilities teams and vendors hired to support the installed electrical and OT equipment. Unfortunately, this means a higher number of individuals need access to these otherwise restricted areas. To help protect against the increased risk of accidental or purposeful tampering, smart building equipment must be physically secured at and within the rack itself.

Some racks that cater toward highly secure areas include fully integrated locking mechanisms on rack doors and side panels. This allows for co-habitation of device components that can be secured by the IT, facilities, or OT teams accordingly.

Adjustable airflow

Ensuring proper airflow to keep power-hungry equipment at recommended operating temperatures is a common concern for smart-building IT and OT staff. Modern rack designs may include specialized airflow systems that allow operators to adjust the angles and directions through which air intake and outlet valves shift cold and hot air—allowing for optimal flow.

Benefits of choosing top-of-rack

Modern data center architectures feature network equipment installed within every server rack in a data center. Known as a top-of-rack (ToR) design, this model increases switching performance while reducing the amount of horizontal cabling within equipment rooms. This is beneficial when space is limited. Additionally, ToR features, such as adjustable roof panels, airflow containment systems, and integrated cable management dividers, can help to reduce the overall amount of space that network components and cabling consume within a rack.

Don’t underestimate space-saving rack systems

Equipment racks are a critical part of network- and data-center budgets that are commonly whittled down to the bare bones. However, in buildings where space is at a premium, one should never underestimate the value that these well-thought-out systems can offer. Doing so can lead to situations where smart building technology integrations simply cannot happen because of the lack of physical space availability or because of security and access concerns.

Considering that these forward-looking, adaptable technologies can significantly reduce costs and improve occupant safety, architects who want to help owners ensure their buildings are flexible and adaptable to future needs should put great care, consideration, and investment into finding and installing a proper equipment rack system.

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About the Author

Andrew Froehlich | Contributor

As a highly regarded network architect and trusted IT consultant with worldwide contacts, Andrew Froehlich counts over two decades of experience and possesses multiple industry certifications in the field of enterprise networking. Andrew is the founder and president of Colorado-based West Gate Networks, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and data center build-outs. He’s also the founder of an enterprise IT research and analysis firm, InfraMomentum. As the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex, he is a regular contributor to multiple enterprise IT-related websites and trade journals with insights into rapidly changing developments in the IT industry.

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