One of the pipe dreams of many a home networking geek, or those involved in the IT field is a server rack loaded with hardware at home. Although there are a number of potential pitfalls with this (higher electricity bill, Internet connectivity and speed, dynamic IPs, and more), many times, it’s simply the prohibitive price of the server rack and hardware itself that manages to put people off from this. CraigsList can be a wonderful source for old server racks, but sometimes, you’ll have to wait and shop for a good deal. I’m usually not that patient.
The solution? A little ingenuity, and some handy skills with wood.
Background for the D.I.Y. Server Rack
Working as a systems administrator, I’m a huge gear head, and love server equipment, programming, and tinkering. Having bought a new house in 2012, and opening up possibilities that I didn’t have with an apartment or rented house, like running CAT6 Ethernet to every room, and having a basement to build a server closet, sent me into planning mode.
The house was already running 3 separate desktops, two HTPCs (one of which was also a gaming PC for the living room, including several emulators (MAME, Dolphin, NES, SNES) and the family Steam account with ~200 titles), a central server housing the media (running Active Directory for everything with roaming profiles, a Minecraft server, a private WoW server, Subsonic for media sharing), a Netgear WNR3500L with DD-WRT firmware serving as a router, and a 5 port unmanaged Gigabit switch. The network was “flat” however, with no VLANs, and this was a good time to work that out also. Upgrading the switch, I’d also need plenty of new ports, so a bigger switch, preferably a 24 port Gigabit managed switch, would be the answer.
Considerations for the D.I.Y. Server Rack
When you’re doing anything home network related, it’s best to start with your underlying infrastructure first; in this case, the network. Regardless of increasing wireless performance, 802.11n, 5Ghz, and “fat” channels, wireless is just not up to the task for a heavily used, media saturated network. If you’re adding a central server on board for roaming profiles, and central storage of files, pictures, and documents, you need to be wired more than ever. In addition, this would free up the wireless bands for the few wireless devices that we did have in the house.
The entire process of wiring the house will be detailed in later post, but the end result was two Gigabit Ethernet ports in every room, except for the living room, “office”, and master bedroom, which got four drops. The extra drops would be used for additional later expansion, network Blu-Ray players, and so forth.
Four other considerations that had impact here were energy efficiency, battery backup, consolidation, and wanting to create an ESXi VMWare Home Lab and Home Networking Lab that would not only function as a lab, but
allow me to virtualize a few of the physical servers, like the central server that was functioning as the Domain Controller and File Server, and had no real need to be a physical box. Battery backup would keep essential stuff online, and consolidation would bring my scattered desktop towers into rack-mount configuration to save space. Virtualization would also help with energy efficiency.
The Plan for the DIY Server Rack
Many people don’t know that racks for audio equipment are interchangeable, at least in structure and design, with server racks. They both hold 19″ equipment, the hole spacing is the same, the angle iron used to make the racks is usually much thicker and sturdier than server racks, and as a final bonus, is much cheaper. Although the possibility was there to build the entire rack out of angle iron, I wanted something a bit nicer looking, something that was semi-mobile, and still open to encourage air flow (the basement would already be cool enough to promote a good environment). My final choice? Simple 2x4s.
For this particular build, and my needs, I decided on a 20U rack that would hold my gear, and give me room for expansion. A “U” is the measured height of a server case, and 1U = 1.75 inches. For the front plate, you have a total width of 19 inches, with 17.75 inches left for the actual server (the rails/ears take up .625 inches on each side). Typical depth of a rack is 25″, however, I’d like some additional space for access to the back of the rack for cabling, so I’m adding some depth.
Servers come in configurations from 1U to 4U typically, and a 3U or 4U case will hold regular ATX power supplies, and take full height expansion cards. If you decide to go 1U or 2U, take this into consideration. Of course, you can purchase used, 1U or 2U servers (which is what I did for my ESXi nodes on my home VMWare Lab), but if you’re building your own boxes, then 3U/4U would be the best bet.
Final Rack Configuration for D.I.Y. Server Rack
- 1U: 1 x 1U Juniper SSG5 Firewall
- 2U: 2 x 1U D-Link DGS-1224T 24 Port Gigabit Smart Switch
- 2U: Tripp Lite SMART3000RM2U Smart Pro 3000VA 2250W Rackmount UPS
- 3U: 1 x 3U case, ESXi VMWare node (whitebox, ASUS-KGPE-D16, dual 8 core, 64GB of RAM)
- 3U: 1 x 3U case, HTPC/Gaming Rig
- 6U: 3 x 2U cases, ESXi VMWare Nodes (3 x Dell PowerEdge 2950 II, dual Quad Core, 16GB of RAM)
Total ESXi VMWare Lab Statistics: 32 cores, 96GB RAM
Total Home Server Rack Space: 17U w/4U left for expansion.
My ESXi VMWare Lab Specs (Note: A work-in-progress, and may not be 100% accurate at the time)
Blueprint / Measurements for D.I.Y Server Rack
Material List for D.I.Y. Server Rack
- 2 Pair of 20U Space Rack Rails — $45 (eBay)
- 4 2x4s – $10.00 (Lowe’s)
- 48 3″ Sheetrock Screws — $4.58 (Lowe’s)
- 20 1-1/4″ Sheetrock Screws — $4.58 (Lowe’s)
- Set of 4 2″ High Capacity Rubber Locking Plate Casters – $15.99 (Amazon)
- Minwax Wood Finish, Red Oak 215 (had some)
Total Cost: $80.15
Tool List for D.I.Y. Server Rack
- Saw (Circular, Table, or Radial; I have a Sliding, Compound Radial Saw)
- Cordless Drill (Mine: B&D 18v)
- Phillips Head bit (magnetic is a plus)
- Drill bit (for pilot holes for the screw)
- Paint brush for Minwax
Board Cut List for D.I.Y. Home Server Rack
- 4 x 42-1/8″ (uprights for the 20U rails)
- 4 x 27-1/2″ (“depth” measurement, front view of the rack)
- 4 x 19-5/8″ (“width” measurement, front view of the rack)
Considering that the usual 2x4s are the same price whether they are 92-5/8″ (studs) or 96″ (2’x4’x8′), we’ll take the extra here and go 96″ (usually the cheapest variety of lumber since they are mass produced). So, you can make the following cuts (remember that the width of your saw blade, the kerf, is 1/8″ and I’ve added that in below):
- 2×4 #1 = 2 “widths” (19-3/4″ x 2) + 2 “depths” (27-5/8″) = 94 7/8″ (~1″ waste)
- 2×4 #2 = 2 “widths” (19-3/4″ x 2) + 2 “depths” (27-5/8″) = 94 7/8″ (~1″ waste)
- 2×4 #3 = 2 “uprights” (42-1/4″ x 2) = 84.5″ (~11.5″ waste)
- 2×4 #4 = 2 “uprights” (42-1/4″ x 2) = 84.5″ (~11.5″ waste)
Disclaimer: This was eyeballed for minimum waste, but may not be the optimal cut layout. Also, if you get standard studs, you’ll need 5 of them instead of 4.
Steps for D.I.Y. Home Server Rack
- Make cuts on 2x4s (see above for cuts)
- Assemble top and bottom “square frames”
- Attach uprights to bottom frame (use a square to make sure these are square/level)
- Attach Rails, making sure they are flush again the bottom frame, and square along the edge.
- Attach top square frame
- Stain (this is optional, but easy and makes it look nice)
- Attach casters to bottom of server rack.
Some pictures of the various steps in the construction: