​RGB – The Rack Specialists

News / 06.10.20

The 19” rack has always been a key element to any installation.  Its primary goal is to house products securely and centrally, making it the ideal location to pull all cables back to.  

Often overlooked, the actual structure of the rack plays a vital role to not only hold the products securely but also to enable to accurate monitoring and treatment of the environment the products are housed in.

The Basics
So what is the main reason for a rack?  The first, and probably most obvious, is a central location to safely house the main components to a system.  The nominal width is 19 inches (465.1mm), although there are also 23 inch versions available too.  19” tends to be the most commonly used in CI, as this is a ‘standard’ width that most CE electronics conform to.  The height is determined in the number of ‘U’s, which are 1 ¾ inches (44.45mm).  Depending on the piece of equipment to be housed, the height is determined in blocks of ‘U’s, with a 1U product being slim and a 4U product being significantly taller.

Rack Types
So when looking to use a rack, the first thing to do is to plan how it is to be used, what is going in it and where it is going to be located.  Most rack systems tend to be set up and then left to do their work.  This is all fine until there is an issue, which is why access is very important.  Additionally, most racks tend to be hidden away, either in a plant room, a garage or even an under-stair cupboard.  However, over the years, as the electronics have become more sophisticated, so have the racks themselves and it is not unusual to see racks that easily pull out of cabinets and swivel, such as the Middle Atlantic AXS range, allowing the engineer to access the rear of the housed products for maintenance.

As office space evolves, so have the electronics and, therefore, the housing requirements.  In many small offices, the need for large racks of equipment have been largely eradicated, making way for single-room interfaces, where compatibility with the single display and fitted audio system is the primary objective.  Audio amplification has also reduced significantly in both physical size and heat radiation, allowing it to be housed in substantially smaller enclosures than ever before.  To this end, the racking, or rather the housing, of the electronics can now be far more stealth-like and be in the room without taking up anywhere near as much space as before.

This has led to a dramatic development of localised electronics housings, including products such as the Middle Atlantic C3 Credenza Series.  These subtle yet effective units hang on a wall with only a 10 inch depth, so are ideal for small spaces, walkways and even under wall-mounted displays.  By mounting the electronics vertically, a whole-room system can be housed in a centralised location.

Although boardrooms have long featured connected technology, recent developments have seen the mounting of the electronics in the actual table itself!  Reducing wiring to a minimum whilst offering table-top interface solutions, these dedicated boardroom solutions have seen significant demamd recently.  But if the table cannot be changed, we have also seen a lot of interest in hanging structures, whereby the equipment is housed in a more traditional 19” rack, which is then ‘hidden’ in the ceiling and that can be pulled down for maintenance.

If any of the above options are not practical, there has also been significant interest in more cost-effective solutions, whereby only the very basic of construction is required.  A clever example is with Lande’s Set & Stack system, which is totally universal depending on what the requirements are.  Either wall, ceiling or under desk mountable, the system can be easily added too or reduced, depending on the demands of the client.  For more traditional usage, Penn Elcom offer a good range of well-constructed racks that allow the installer to specify what they need depending on the usage. Walls and doors can be added at any time, along with a wealth of accessories to personalise to the customers requirements.

For installers, one of the most critical requirements when choosing how to mount electronics is the access for maintenance.  Clearly, the idea here is to install the most reliable electronics but no product is 100% reliable.  Therefore, access to the rack or equipment housing is required so that an engineer can visit the site and service the relevant products.  However, this is expensive and would be avoided if at all possible, especially as a relatively simple re-boot can fix a lot of issues.  With this in mind, one of the biggest innovations in rack design is not just the carcass itself but also the power management hidden within.

Power
In the good old days, power was supplied to a rack by way of a standard power distribution block, either featuring 13 Amp sockets or, for those that were more sophisticated, C13 IEC sockets.  Latterly, each outlet is individually switched, allowing the engineer to either power down a single device or remove/replace a device without having to power down the whole rack.  In addition, to help preserve the delicate internal electronics of many products often housed in racks, surge protection has become not only a requirement but rather a necessity.  A good basic yet effective example of multi-way mains distribution with surge protection is the SurgeX Defender.  An extremely cost-effective solution, the SurgeX Defender is a perfect introduction to rack power distribution and a product we recommend highly as the entry-level to high-quality mains distribution.

One of the recent innovations to rack power has been the implementation of IP control.  Remote IP switching and access reduces time on site, as the rack can be powered down and back up again safely and without causing a surge.  Sensitive electronics are not harmed and a system, or even individual electronics within it, can be pre-programmed to power up or down at certain times, saving money through not using power when the equipment is not in use.  Crucially for installers, it also allows for remote diagnostics, saving significant time on engineers visiting a site to, in many cases, re-boot a product.

But there is more to IP power diagnostics than just switching a product off and on.  The SurgeX Access Elite, for example, also offers sophisticated monitoring and surge protection and warns the controller when it detects that a product is either unstable and/or if there has been a blackout in the middle of the night, which might mean the equipment requires a re-boot.

Thermal management
Another very useful innovation has been thermal detection linked with heat dissipation.  Using internal sensors to monitor the general heat of either the whole rack or an individual piece of electronics, when a certain temperature is reached, the ECU automatically turns on noiseless fans for the required amount of time to reduce heat, reducing the stress on the housed electronics, which ultimately leads to increased reliability.  This gives both the client and the installer long-term peace of mind for the housed electronics.  We carry excellent examples of these extremely useful products from Middle Atlantic, Lande and Penn Elcom and would again strongly recommend that they are used in every rack build.

What next?
So there is a lot to think about when it comes to rack design, from the look and functionality of the rack itself through to the environment it is in and the power and thermal management of the electronics within.  Essentially, the best thing is to garner as much knowledge as you can to determine what the most important factors are and seek out the right solution for the application. 

For more information, call our rack specialists on +44(0)1488 73366 or email sales@rgbcomms.co.uk.