document updated 14 years ago, on Dec 22, 2008
The benefits of rack mounting includes:
- reduced footprint (equipment is stacked vertically instead of sitting on the floor)
- easy to access both front and back of equipment, to make it easy to rewire them.
(in particular, after installing wires between equipment on the same rack, the wire will never flex, even while the rack as a whole can be wheeled and rotated around)
Professional-grade computer rackmounts are nice, but are almost universally priced out of the range of home users, probably because there aren't many home users. So they have to resort to repurposing audio racks (which mostly have the same dimensions, but are targetted towards more economical users), or otherwise fabricate most of the rack themselves.
- built right into the house (discussion) — though optimally, this would be inside a "wall" that's 31.5" or 39.4" thick, it would have doors on both sides to allow access to both the front and back of the equipment, and would have dedicated ventilation (since it's fully enclosed).
- engadget writeup
TODO: Before building my unit, decide whether it's possible to use a horizontally-oriented design or not. It may be much easier to deal with the "rack as a whole" if it's in a self-contained standing/self-supported rectangle. On the other hand, if I do that, then do I really want to use "holey" shelves?
Sometimes there are a lot of smaller devices (USB hub, network switch, KVM, VOIP box, etc) that you'd like to be able to rackmount. The equipment isn't standard-sized, but you can use wire ties:
Well, one disadvantage is horizontal is that then I MUST leave extra room for the cables in the back, to be able to either slide the shelf all the way forward, or all the way back. This isn't required at all on the vertical orientation.
Well, we could always build the vertically-oriented one now, to see how practical it is, and then try the horizontally-oriented one with the same shelves later, if we decide that vertical may not work so well. The vertical orientation requires less work, so that's the one to start with if we may eventually try both ways.
TODO: when I get mine constructed, PUT PICTURES HERE. They'll REALLY help explain the idea. That will make it much easier to just explain the variations-on-a-theme below.
This uses vertically-oriented racks, which makes it easy to open the layers up, so you have room to work on the wire ties. The downside is that the cables don't have much to rest on, so you may have to wire-tie most of them. It might be possible to design horizontally-oriented racks, but you'd have to come up with a way to slide the shelves out so that you have enough room to work on the wire ties. Even then, it may be difficult to access the rear sockets on equipment that's relatively shallow.
I was lucky to find all of the wire shelves in one $15 package at Target. They were originally designed to be used for a cubical shelf.
TODO: take a picture of the front of the Target box, and include a small thumbnail here, and link to a larger version from the thumbnail.
Other materials can be used for the racks. A more upscale version is to use metal pegboard, but that can be expensive. Wooden pegboard would work too, but may be flimsy. It's even possible to use solid metal or wood, and use 3M Command Strips to attach equipment to the racks, but using so many adhesive strips would get expensive (though this would be the nicest-looking option).
If you're clever enough with the design of the "book spine" hinge, it may be possible to mount one "book cover" flat against the wall, so that when the whole thing is closed up, it takes up relatively little space.
If aesthetics are important, you can use solid "book covers" to cover up the mess of wires on the interior of the rack.
mini rackmount planning
Sometimes there are a lot of smaller devices (USB hubs, small network switches, VOIP boxes, etc) that would be good to mount vertically, to keep the wires neat, and minimize their footprint.
One way to do this is to wire-tie the equipment to wood or metal pegboard. The wires can be wire-tied also.
Downside: Wood pegboard is a bit flimsy, unless it has structural reinforcements (e.g. a 1"x1" wooden frame). Metal pegboard is expensive.
Another way is to 3M equipment to solid wood paneling or metal sheets.
Downside: 3M Command Strips are somewhat expensive, and are mostly optimized to avoid damaging surfaces. In this case, we care more about structural/functional support than we do about avoiding holes in the mounting board.
A hybrid of the above is to repurpose wire shelves, which have built-in structural reinforcements, have "holes" of a sort, and require far less metal to manufacture. If you only use wire ties, the equipment can slide side-to-side on the much-larger "holes", so you have to also use sticky tape on the bottom of the equipment. However, because the sticky tape is mainly to avoid sliding, and it doesn't provide the main support, it's possible to use much cheaper sticky tape than 3M.
Downside: Wire shelves tend to still be "thick" compared to metal pegboard (though they're probably still less bulky than wood frames on wooden pegboard). Is there any sort of shelving commonly available that's not quite as thick?
Whatever method is used to mount each piece of equipment to a "flat plane", it's possible to mount several of these "flat planes" back-to-back, either vertically or horizontally, to further minimize footprint while maximizing storage space.
Mounting horizontally allows us to avoid having to secure every single cable. Most likely, you'd want some way to rotate the stack as a whole, so you could access both the front and the back. However, mounting and removing equipment to a board can be tricky, since each board is very very close to its neighbor, and we use "bottom mounting" rather than "face" or "side-edge" mounting.
Mounting vertically allows us to use a "book" mount, where each board has a "hinge" on the back edge, and each board has a wide "slit" in the back that wires can be run through, but the front of each board can swing away from its neighbor, allowing you much more space to reconfigure things. While each board moves a fair bit in relation to each other, wires that run from one board to another still don't move very much because the distance between boards at the cross-over point (the "book spine") has a fixed distance. The main downside is that wires have to be more carefully secured, versus a horizontal mount (though a flexible "compression strip" near the "spine" of each board, that could be opened, may be enough to secure wires that run between boards).
TODO: do a quick sketch of these in Blender. Shots: 1) zoomed-out overview of the "book" idea, 2) zoomed-in shot of the "hinge" of one board, and the gap between it and the next one (the metal rod of each "page" would probably just sit in a 2x4" that had been appropriately drilled), 3) a mock-up of a wire running from equipment on one board to equipment on another, as well as a power-strip mounted on one of the "book covers", and the power running to the one piece of equipment (and possibly even a proposed "compression strip" to secure the wires along the back edge of each board), 4) same shot as #3, but viewed from the "back" of the "spine"
Is it possible to make it look as nice as possible in its closed-up form? Possibly mount the whole thing against a wall? i.e. one of the "book covers" is actually mounted directly against a wall, and the other "book cover" is a solid sheet that's painted, so that the bulk of the unit is covered. The outer "book cover" could swing very far out, to allow room for readjustment. And then when you want to put everything away, it closes back up against the wall, just sticking out from the wall the minimum distance needed to maintain space between the "pages"?