DIY 19″ Server Rack for Home Servers and/or ESXi VMWare Lab

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.

Server Rack Rail Dimensions

Server Rack Rail Dimensions

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

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

DIY Server Rack Dimensions

D.I.Y. Server Rack Dimensions

Material List for D.I.Y. Server Rack

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

  1. Make cuts on 2x4s (see above for cuts)
  2. Assemble top and bottom “square frames”
  3. Attach uprights to bottom frame (use a square to make sure these are square/level)
  4. Attach Rails, making sure they are flush again the bottom frame, and square along the edge.
  5. Attach top square frame
  6. Stain (this is optional, but easy and makes it look nice)
  7. Attach casters to bottom of server rack.

Some pictures of the various steps in the construction:

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Frames

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Uprights

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Uprights

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fit Testing

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fit Testing

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Ready to Stain

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Ready to Stain

 

 

 

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fresh Stain

D.I.Y. Home Server Rack: Fresh Stain

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Battery Backup

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Battery Backup

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Cable Management

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Cable Management

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Front Shot

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Front Shot

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: KVM

D.I.Y. Server Rack: KVM

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: 10x32x3/4 Machine Screws

D.I.Y. Server Rack: 10x32x3/4 Machine Screws

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Side Shot of Servers

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Side Shot of Servers

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Gigabit Switches

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Gigabit Switches

 

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers

D.I.Y. Server Rack: Bottom Servers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • NJP123

    Can we haaz more pictures please! Maybe of some 1u servers on rails. You have the best guide on the web for this type of project btw!

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      Thanks for the compliment. The lack of good guides was what made me do this, and I’ll get some additional pictures up this weekend of the rack in full use. I don’t have any 1U servers to show off in it, but I have a couple of 1U 24 port switches, a 1U cable organizer, and a 1U keystone blank, so you can at least see some 1U stuff in it.

      • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

        Pictures have been updated with quite a few new ones. Forgive the state of construction, as I’m re-doing my cable management.

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      New pictures are up!

  • Killer-admin

    Wow and i just paid 300 bucks for a rack that i dont really like any more, the really sad part is that i have all these parts in the garage/shed (-less casters, -minwax, -rack rails)

    i also suppose Angle Iron could be used in place of the rack rails.

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      Angle iron could definitely be used as a replacement for the rack rails, as all they really are is angle iron with holes in them. Since I had just moved, and didn’t have all my tools, I didn’t have a drill press, or I’d have probably used angle iron and just drilled the holes myself. This definitely worked out cheaper/better for me than buying a pre-made rack.

  • AVTech

    This is a nice rack and I made one similar to this. One question….on the rack rails I know one side is the 10-32 tapped holes but what side did you fasten to the wood, and what size screws? Also what screws are needed for the untapped holes on the front?

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      The rails should have a wide side and a narrow side. The wide side should be untapped, and that is what fastens to the wood. As for fastening it to the wood, all I used was 1-1/2″ sheetrock screws … one every 3 holes.

  • http://about.me/josiah Josiah Ritchie

    Where did the rails come from? Did you consider using square hole rails?

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      The rails came from an eBay supplier: they are simply audio equipment rails, which have the same centers and same spacing as server rails. I did consider using square hole rails, but the problem is that they are only available from specialty houses, and they command a specialty price, as well as special attachments for the screws to use the square holes. Finally, the audio rails are actually more sturdy than the square hole rails that I found, and were 1/4 the price. Therefore, I went with this. In addition, all I needed was a box of 10 x 32 x 3/4 inch machine screws from my local hardware shop.

  • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

    You caught me just as I was updating this morning! New pictures are up. Am in the middle of re-doing my cable management, so pardon my dust, as they would say.

    • Adam Woollett

      Have you considered hunting for a bigger UPS? Those tiny APC’s (I have a couple) only run a desktop for about 3 minutes! Craigslist might have a rack mounted APC 3000XL somewhere? Then you’d have 30 minutes runtime and hopefully a NIC management card too.

      • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

        Actually, that black BackupsPro runs my ESXi nodes and has the external battery pack. Without the pack, I get 14 minutes of solid runtime, and I’ve tested that. With the pack, I get almost 45 minutes. I think that’s pretty good runtime without looking for anything else. Not really sure why I’d need more than that, especially since I have a natural gas whole-house generator. The other beige 1500 only runs my switches, modem and router, and gets around 30 minutes also. Appreciate the suggestion, though.

  • bala

    does the width include space for sliding rails also?

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      No, this is designed as a screw-only rack. Standard 10×32 machine screws hold the servers in, and I use 3/4 length, although I’m sure 1/2 would work fine also. You’d need a different setup for sliding rails, and you’d also need to build in some front support legs on the ground to compensate for the weight of the server when you slid them out. If that’s what you’re looking for, then these aren’t the plans for you.

  • Clay

    Your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed, Don! I really was planning on doing something similar in the near future so I’m glad I have your design to base mine off of. I hope everything is going well with you and I look forward to seeing changes/improvements in the future!

    -Clay

  • Brett Webb

    Awesome Job glade to see others building instead of buying :)

  • Danielsan

    Hi Don, Very nice Rack.

    I’m building something similar based off your hard work and I had a question.
    Having already purchased my rails, and test fitting them; I noticed that the rails in your build process pictures are installed differently when comparing with your finished product pictures.

    my question for you is: the length of the 2×4 for the front/back of the top and bottom box still 19 5/8th?

    and also: you mention in the comments below that this setup wont work if you plan on using rails.

    assuming the rack can take the weight when the server is completely extended and out of the rack, why wouldn’t it work? what am I not seeing? could you expand on this please?

    Thanks!

    • Danielsan

      I also just noticed that your original design included 4 rails and the finish product you have the back ones removed. it looks like you wanted to go with rails.. but changed your mind?

      I’m about to built the back of the rack, and I’m not sure how “deep” to make the 2nd part.. and now well… you’re making me double think it.

      I guess I should get my rails first :/

  • Athan

    Excuse me for hijacking this page, but i was looking for more information on what application you used to create this diagram and that post did not have a comments section.

    http://thehomeserverblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/ESXi-Home-Lab-Diagram.png

    I really like the look of that…

    Thanks a lot!

    • http://letslearnwordpress.com Don Fountain

      That’s fine; it’s a page, and I have comments disabled on those. For this, I used Visio with custom icons, but you could do this is just about any charting program or website. I’ve used LucidChart to pretty good results, and https://www.draw.io/ is also a good one.

  • comet

    what do you all have wired or connected to the switchs you got different colors, so you run 3 servers, but what do you all have hooked up and any cameras as I was looking into network cameras etc can you give a break down

  • mike

    what all you have hooked up with your cat 5 is that just computers

  • Tanner Crook

    Super cool. I have been looking for other people building home servers on a budget. This is the first one I have seen that nailed exactly what I want to use mine for. Also the first one I have seen using a wood frame. Very cool.

  • TheSchmett

    Awesome! I want to build something like this to put my coin mining rigs in an this is a great inspiration. I currently only have 2, but planning more, and they make tons of heat!

    Have you thought at all about reusing/moving the heat, maybe to your water heater or to heat the house (possibly through underfloor heating)? I’m not sure that the smell of power supplies is what I want piped through my home but if I could vent some air, and capture some heat that would be excellent!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers