A Guide to Setting up an SME Server Room

For network administrators and IT professionals working for a small to medium enterprise (SME), there is perhaps no greater challenge than setting up and managing an on-premises network and server installation. It tends to be difficult because most SME business managers are hesitant to dedicate any part of their technology budgets to purchase anything other than fixed assets like routers, switches, and servers. Just about every IT professional has had a conversation about things like cable management or thermal loads with a manager who stares back impassively, silently asking “does this mean less money for top-of-the-line hardware?”

To get the message across, it’s helpful to explain the basics of setting up a proper server and networking room. Managers will be more willing to spend what’s needed once they understand that failure to do so could shorten the life of their expensive equipment, and even lead to business-crippling outages. To simplify the task, here is a guide to setting up a simple server room that you don’t need an engineering degree to understand.


Selecting an Appropriate Space

Since most SMEs won’t splurge on the luxury of a purpose-built server room, it’s necessary to choose a space that can be easily retrofitted for the task. In general, the room should:

  • Have dedicated power circuits that can handle at least double the load of whatever equipment will be installed.
  • Be large enough to allow airflow around the equipment.
  • Have space to include adequate air conditioning.

Start With The Right Servers

First and foremost, rack-mountable servers should be used whenever possible. Many small businesses often start out with traditional tower servers due to their lower costs, but they are far more difficult to house and maintain. The good news is that rack-mounted servers aren’t as expensive as they have been in years past, so it shouldn’t be a chore to make the case for their purchase. Doing this will allow greater flexibility when organizing equipment, allow servers to share space with patch bays and switches and will reduce the space requirements of the whole installation.

Choose a Rack With Room to Grow

The rule of thumb when selecting an equipment rack is to choose a unit with at least one and a half times the space that existing equipment will occupy. This will provide room for growth, and allow for better organization of cables. Make sure that the chosen rack contains built-in cable management features, or that you leave room for necessary add-on units. If possible, space should be reserved for a rack-mountable KVM console and alocking drawer for spare cables and tools. For housekeeping purposes, make use of tool box organization foam to create custom secure storage for needed items.

Consider Cooling Needs

The most-often overlooked element of a typical SME server room is adequate cooling. Getting this wrong will lead to shorter equipment life and unexpected system downtime. To make sure this won’t be a problem, first, calculate how much cooling capacity the room will need. For small installations, the existing air conditioning system may be able to handle the job. A custom HVAC zone with an independent thermostat may be needed, to ensure that the room remains cool during off-hours. If this isn’t possible or isn’t enough, consider portable air conditioners. If this option is chosen, plan to purchase two units so they can be rotated for maintenance when needed.

Future-Proofed Installation

A key selling point that may be helpful in securing a budget for the needed items is to highlight the fact that the plan includes plenty of room for future growth. This goes a long way towards assuring managers that it’s going to be money well-spent and that they won’t have to revisit the issue for a long time. Additionally, getting the basics right will simplify ongoing management and maintenance, which will reduce the workload for the IT staff tasked with keeping everything running. It also guarantees the kind of efficiencies that will keep the technology needs of the business satisfied, and that should be the overarching goal for both IT staff and business managers.