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systems_glitch

Building a Home Server Room

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As part of rehabbing our house, we're moving the utilities to a central location to shorten the pipe/wire/duct runs to other rooms. Aside from being cheaper, it also makes it convenient to add extra services since you have dedicated space for them anyway. One of the things I wanted to do was set aside space for a proper home server room. Since I don't have that much equipment, it's going to share a small (8x7 foot) room with the electrical equipment.

 

Gallery link: http://www.binrev.com/forums/index.php/gallery/album/2713/199-server-room-build/

 

EDIT: imgur gallery link: http://imgur.com/a/SfgyY#0

 

The room started out with the same dimensions. The house was built in the first half of the 1800's, so the walls in the basement are brick and were covered with old-school plaster -- directly on the brick, no lathe. The ceiling was plaster and lathe, and the floor was timbers directly on the dirt. Oddly enough, there were two doors into this tiny little room!

 

The first thing to do was remove all of the plaster and floor. One of the walls was a brick partition wall, only a single brick thick, and actually came down more or less on its own when we started removing the plaster. Since it's not a load-bearing wall, it was replaced with a 2x4 stud wall faced with 1/2" plywood, which is nicer for mounting equipment anyway. We had a concrete floor poured by our go-to contractor, which cost around $350. Once that was completed, we framed up the 2x4 partition wall:

 

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The room also had a tiny casement window. I guess it allowed some light in originally, but now there's another building a few inches away from it. It got bricked up, and while we were at it, the rest of the brick was patched. We used modern S-type mortar:

 

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Next, all masonry got a coat of UGL DryLok, which is a waterproofing paint. It wasn't entirely necessary for these walls as we've never had dampness problems from them, but they did show signs of water leakage from the past. The UGL stuff is super-thick (kinda like soft serve ice cream), so it also holds in any dust from the old bricks/mortar, and getting stuff in it doesn't matter. Put it on with a brush you don't care about:

 

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We decided to go with a two-color paint scheme to make the walls a little less stark, and to give the illusion of higher ceilings -- our basement has only 6.5 feet of head clearance. Dark gray on the bottom, white on the top. We used semi-gloss to make it easy to clean:

 

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NO, IT IS NOT AN INTERROGATION ROOM!

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Obviously, this room is also where the breaker box goes. I bought a 200 Amp Square D QO box with 40 spaces...should be more than adequate for a house with gas appliances. Everything is run in conduit down here, partially to protect the wires, and partially to allow future expansion. We're fixing things as we go/as money allows, so we often leave conduit in the walls and pull wire in later.

 

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Since we'd gotten all of the big stuff taken care of, it was time to close up the extra door that leads into the basement hallway. Closing it up eliminated having to buy another door (the original was trashed) and also gives a lot more wall space. More 2x4 framing with 1/2" plywood:

 

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The door infill was caulked and painted, and a small shelf hung. There's going to be a short bit of counter space under the shelf for working on equipment:

 

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I decided to use Wiremold 4000 series surface raceway for power and data cabling. We used it at one of my previous jobs to "future-proof" our labs. Changing or updating power and data cabling involves popping off the cover and running new cables. There's a huge variety of plates for it, allowing all sorts of power outlets and data connections. Unfortunately, it's usually very expensive. I spent a month or so gathering the bits and pieces for the server room install from various online surplus sites and auction sites. Overall, I ended up spending around $250 for everything I bought, which included 20 feet of base raceway, 20 feet of blank cover, and many fittings (device plates, couplings, entrance fittings, et c.). A bit pricey, but I've got enough leftover fittings to do it over again -- they will probably be put to use in the shop, later.

 

The back wall goes up first, because it has two internal elbows (impossible to install once it is mounted):

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The rest of the base goes up, with the long part being in two sections. This is partially to minimize waste, and partially because, without a joiner plate, you can't go wall-to-wall very easily. The covers and devices are installed for fitting, but they're not wired in yet:

 

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I wired in the first outlet in the run so that we could stop tripping over the very long extension cord running from upstairs. The raceway will contain two 20A circuits on separate breakers. The first will feed only the equipment rack and the overhead light, while the other feeds the rest of the receptacles and the light under the shelf. Popping a breaker with a tool or something plugged into the workspace receptacles won't cut power to the servers!

 

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I picked up some 12 gauge THHN single-conductor wire from a thrift store near us. It was $1 per roll for rolls with about 20 feet left. There were many colors, so I ran the raceway circuits with purple for the general purpose receptacles:

 

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Using multiple colors will make working on the system easier in the future. I'm running red for the equipment rack. Aside from the overhead light, nothing else will be on the circuit. I used an orange 20A receptacle to differentiate it from the rest:

 

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Note: there's a special cutter you can get for Wiremold raceways. It costs several hundred dollars new, and usually $150-200 used. You need a separate one for the cover and the base. I don't have either of those, so I use a roofing square, masking tape, a marker, and my Sawzall. Make the cuts with 1/16 to 1/8 inch extra and file them down square with a flat file. Works fine!

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Wow! Looks great so far Glitch! I especially like the cable raceways, I always appreciate cable management, and knowing where your wire runs are. In our basement all the wiring is ran through small holes cut in the upstairs floor joists. It makes tracing a run or adding one, really simple.

Can't wait to see more! What kind of servers are you planning on setting up?

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I've got a two-post relay rack that will be going in front of the orange receptacle -- fortunately aluminum, as it has to be cut down to make ceiling clearance. It will house my UPS, the FreeBSD raidz fileserver, a pfSense firewall, the Asterisk server, and a testbed machine. I've got a 24-port gigabit switch for it, as well as a 48-port patch panel (can't remember if it's actually two 24-port panels) and a rack shelf for holding up things like the cable modem.

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Got the last of my Wiremold hardware in this afternoon -- raceway divider strips! This is a piece of sheet metal that runs down the center of the raceway base, held in place with spring clips. It gives you two isolated sections to run cables in, which reduces interference between the AC power supply and the data cables. I'm sure there's a special tool for cutting it, but good tin snips/aircraft shears work fine. In addition to cutting it to length, I ended up notching it where it crossed couplings for better fit:

 

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I also punched a hole for a 1/2" trade size fitting in the back of the raceway's power section for the under-shelf light. Funny thing about "trade size:" it doesn't seem to have anything to do with an actual measurement nowadays. The hole size is actually 7/8". I used a Greenlee panel punch, which worked perfectly:

 

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I needed to kill the power, but wanted to be able to leave my laptop plugged in (listening to old episodes of binrev radio!), so I wired in the single 20A receptacle for the server rack. Red wire for phase, back to the panel:

 

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With the server rack receptacle powered, I started on the rest of the receptacles. Only the first on the other branch is 20A, the rest are 15A (which is allowed on a 20A circuit so long as there is more than one receptacle). Basically just string them along:

 

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There's one receptacle left to install, but that will probably get added when I do the cat6 runs once the equipment rack is installed. For now, I've got power most of the way to the corner of the room, including to the under-shelf light!

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We're starting to wrap up our time-constrained winterizing of the house, so I've had a little time to spend on the server room this week/past weekend. Last night, I cut down the 7-foot Chatsworth relay rack I picked up from the MIT Flea back in September ( http://www.binrev.com/forums/index.php/topic/46182-september-mit-flea/ ). I didn't take pictures of the actual cut-down, but basically I laid the fully assembled rack on the floor, keeping both patch panels installed, and first moved the horizontal pieces from the top to their final location. This helped keep the spacing consistent for marking the upright posts for cutting. It's aluminum, so it cut easily with a Sawzall -- beware, you don't want to use a regular steel-cutting fine tooth metal blade! The teeth will fill in almost immediately and ruin the blade. Use a bi-metal blade meant for wood with metal/nails in it. It should have finer teeth than a wood blade, but still have teeth that look like a hand saw.

 

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The rack had to be cut down to a final height of 6' 1" to fit under our low basement ceiling. Not really a loss since I don't have that much equipment to go in. Unfortunately, the floor was unlevel enough to require re-drilling the holes for the horizontal top stock of the rack. Overall, the floor was off about 1/4" over the 19" of the rack's base. I compensated with cedar shims:

 

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Since two-post relay racks are sort of springy/wobbly with servers installed, I braced the top of the rack with Unistrut supports. PurpleJesus calls it, "working man's Lego," which is pretty much accurate. You can build anything from it, it's easy to work with, and it's strong. There are two main types, shallow and deep, and they're both available with or without oblong holes in the back for mounting. I used shallow strut attached to the joists and deep strut as crosspieces to support the rack. In addition to providing support, I can also use the shallow strut to attach conduits that are running into the top of the rack for data/power cables. I ran out of deep strut, so there's only one crosspiece installed at the moment:

 

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I have such a chubby looking at these pics.  I would love to work on a project like this.

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awesome project - can't wait to own a home of my own so i can do something similar 

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Yeah, I wish I had more time for projects! This has taken months to get this far.

 

I decided to stick with my Cat5e patch panels, since they were free to me, rather than buying a Cat6 panel. The panels that came with the rack still had a bunch of cable ends where someone had cut the bundles headed to the rack. While it may have been nice to have a pre-stripped panel, these at least came with the snap-on blocks that help hold the cables down. There was a real pile of wires after stripping them off, which are at least good for breadboarding:

 

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To get the Ethernet runs to the rack, I used a length of 3/4" conduit. This is the largest trade size you can punch into the side of Wiremold 4000 raceway. For larger holes, you have to cut a 13/16" hole for the Greenlee punch's larger drawbolt, which fortunately is slightly smaller than the 1/2" Greenlee punch.

 

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The 3/4" conduit anchors to one strip of the shallow Unistrut, with the cables exiting from the conduit into the top of the rack:

 

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With the conduit in, it's just a matter of pulling the cover off of the Wiremold and pulling cable though. I picked up a bunch of Belden DataTwist Six for $1 per 100' coil at the MIT Flea, so I ran that around the server room:

 

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One end terminates on the patch panel of course...I usually start at the bottom to make punching down additional cables easier. The other terminates to Cat6 jacks in the Wiremold. There are Wiremold combo plates for receptacles and all sorts of data jacks. I'd used Keystone jacks before but never really liked how they went together...they're a real pain to remove. So I gave Ortronics TracJacks a try. Nicer than Keystones by far!

 

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I dropped a spare 12-port gigabit switch in the rack and speed-tested the runs. The wires were not the bottleneck, as expected! I took the opportunity to connect a serial console cable to the switch and reset the admin password. Turns out to be a pretty capable switch (SMC TigerSwitch 8612T)

 

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I'm waiting to do the second pair of Ethernet ports until I get another bit of hardware in. To keep from having to use surge strips on the desk, I'm going to install a Transient Voltage Surge Suppressor (TVSS) receptacle before the rest of the receptacles in the Wiremold to the right of the rack.

 

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We finished the last big item for the server room: a small workbench for a terminal and wrenching on equipment without carrying it somewhere else:

 

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It was built using a 2x4 frame and topped with 1/2" plywood. Everything was primed, the screwholes filled in with putty, reprimed, and then finished in green enamel. It's secured to the studs in the framed wall behind it with 3 1/2" Torx head deck screws, and to the sidewall with 3 1/2" Tapcon masonry bolts. Currently, my decomissioned desktop is up and running, serving mostly as a terminal to configure machines in the rack and as a remote X session host.

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Nice setup! I'm a little jealous though.  I can't convince the wife to let my buy a rack let alone hack one out of a IKEA RAST table.

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