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Eco-friendly flat packs offer economies for data centres

12 May 2013

When designing a new data centre the last thing that anyone will want to compromise is the quality of the racking; the potential losses that can be accrued due to failures will easily dwarf any saving made by opting for budget components.

However, there are racking enclosures that will meet all your quality needs while also saving you money. Alan Lewis explains how flat packed 19in racks not only reduce the carbon footprint of a data centre, but also reduce costs at the point of installation.

The 19in rack system is the backbone of the modern data centre; they are used to support and house hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of servers and routers - equipment that is responsible for the storage and transfer of critical, high-value data. This equipment is heavy, so enclosure strength and stability are likely to be of greater importance than making savings on enclosure costs. Steel and aluminium racks are generally favoured due to the inherent strength of these materials.

Once installed, the strength and size of the racks are a huge positive in terms of guaranteeing the protection of the electronics that they house. However, transporting them to site and moving them into position can often prove costly and time consuming.

Given that a standard rack has a volume of 1.3m3, then approximately 50 racks can be carried by a single articulated haulage vehicle. It is not uncommon for hundreds of racks to be required for a single data centre installation, so delivery costs can quickly stack up – especially so if the products have to be imported.

Racks can also prove problematic once they have been delivered to site. Data centres are often located in rooms with limited access or, more often than not, in a building’s basement. Negotiating corridors, stairs and narrow doorways will require at least two people at a time and can add days to the installation process as the products are moved into position. As we all know, time is money, and this extra installation time can quickly start to eat away at the budget.

An alternative approach
Thanks to innovative designs and high quality materials, some flat pack rack products can offer significant cost savings over traditional racks (in terms of the transportation and installation issue already outlined), while delivering equivalent strength and reliability.

The concept of flat pack racks is quite new to the industry and is still met with an inherent degree of scepticism as thoughts turn to wobbly coffee tables with the inevitable single unused screw left over.

However, it’s important to remember that in an industry where reputation is king, no respectable company would risk its name by releasing an unreliable product. A good quality flat pack system should be made using the exact materials that one would expect to find in a traditional rack and offer the same load capacity and mounting options.

By specifying racks which are delivered flat packed, it is possible to take days off the installation process, while reducing delivery costs and the project’s overall carbon footprint at the same time.

For example, Retex UK’s Logic2 offers a volume reduction of up to 70% during delivery, meaning that almost 170 units can fit in a single delivery vehicle; more than trebling the efficiency of each delivered load.

Once delivered the racks can be conveniently stored until they are needed for installation, at which point they can be quickly moved into position and easily navigated through tight doorways.

The Logic2 is constructed entirely from aluminium and while it is lightweight, it is extremely robust and has the appearance of a high quality product. Aluminium offers a 30 percent weight reduction over an equivalent steel rack, thus further cutting the delivery carbon footprint and making the product easier to move around the installation site. Once it has been built, the frame’s structural integrity is no different to a traditional rack and the product is able to bear a static load in excess of 1,500kg.

Once concerns about the strength and stability of a flat pack rack product have been answered, it is likely the user’s attention will turn to the assembly process: how simple is it and what are the risks associated with assembly mistakes?

A product that is easy to move into position but then takes a day to build is clearly inefficient so it’s important that these questions are asked at the procurement stage to avoid nasty shocks later on.

Naturally, the assembly method will differ from product to product, and some will prove better than the others. One that requires five people to spend half an hour on a single rack quickly negates the benefits of reduced delivery times.

And if a lot of small screws and joining parts are used it may also be possible to make a mistake during the build process so that a rack which appears complete may actually be liable to failure.

Ask for a live demonstration of how a rack is assembled; only then will it be easy to work out whether or not the product will offer those promised savings.

Retex UK has taken these concerns into consideration when designing its flat pack system, which is extremely simple to build, using very few parts. The product is precisely tooled so each panel fits together smoothly without the requirement for numerous fasteners along the profile edges.

Just eight bolts are required and assembly can be completed by one person in less than five minutes. Retex UK believes this is faster than any other product on the market. Because there are no minor stages in the assembly it is impossible to miss a stage out, meaning that once the product looks complete it is complete.

The design considerations also extend to the way that the product is packaged. The packaging features two ‘legs’ on either side with enough width between them for a custom designed trolley to fit through. This facilitates quick and stable transport once on site.

The development of flat pack rack systems has allowed designers to make real term cost savings in an area where traditionally it has been challenging to do so without compromising on reliability.

However, that isn’t to say that all flat pack systems offer the same savings potential. It is important that before any product is specified it is tested in relation to the equipment that it will house to ensure suitability.

It is also advisable that the packaged volume is measured (to ascertain a realistic estimate on the saving in shipping costs) and that the assembly procedure is well understood.

Alan Lewis, is business development manager of Retex UK

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