Differences Between Network, Server, and Data Racks and Cabinets

Posted by Dave Bercovich on January 13, 2022

Server racks and cabinets, network racks and cabinets, data racks and cabinets, and more. There’s an array of hardware to choose from when building out the data center infrastructure and varying nomenclature that is often used interchangeably.

All of these units perform the same basic function: They hold IT equipment in a safe and organized manner. Beyond that, there are key distinctions and use cases for each type.

Server Rack vs. Cabinet

Server racks and cabinets are designed to hold servers and other critical IT equipment, such as storage arrays and network switches. They are most commonly used in data centers and on-premise networking rooms or closets. In smaller data centers, server racks and cabinets are often organized according to workload, with all the gear required to support an application housed in the same unit.

What Is a Server Rack?

The term “server rack” is often used to refer to both racks and cabinets. Generally, however, a rack is an open frame without sides, a roof, or a door. There are two- and four-post racks, but server racks are almost always four-post frames to ensure adequate support for the weight of the server.

With a server rack, you don’t have to worry so much about airflow because it is open to the data center environment. However, racks lack the security features of cabinets.

What Is a Server Cabinet?

In essence, a server cabinet is a rack that’s fully enclosed. Often, the door will have a lock for physical security but may be ventilated for airflow. High-quality server cabinets also have side and rear panels that open to facilitate access to the IT equipment. These may also have locks that are keyed the same as the door.

Airflow must be carefully managed in a server cabinet. In addition to ventilated panels, the cabinet may have built-in fans or even a cooling system.

Network Racks and Cabinets

You may be wondering, “What’s the difference between network racks and cabinets vs. server racks and cabinets?” You're not alone. The two are often confused, but there are differences. Network racks and cabinets are typically used to contain networking equipment outside of the server itself (routers, switches, patch panels, etc.) and they are not usually as deep as server racks and cabinets. The reason being, servers require more space than most other networking equipment does. While server racks and cabinets are generally at least 36 inches in depth, network racks and cabinets can be smaller than 31 inches deep.

It is not uncommon for businesses to use both network racks and server racks simultaneously. It just depends on the amount of hardware in use. Since network racks and cabinets are built to house equipment with lots of cables, cable management is even more important in a network rack or cabinet than in a server rack or cabinet.

What Is a Network Rack?

A network rack is an open frame unit that can be two-post or four-post. Commonly found in data centers or on-premise networking closets, network racks are designed to hold networking equipment outside servers like switches, patch panels, and routers. A two-post network rack is a cost-efficient, space-saving option. The open nature of the unit allows for easy access to the equipment and cabling. High-quality units come with kits for securing the base to the data center floor to increase stability.

What Is a Network Cabinet?

A network cabinet is an enclosed unit similar to a server rack in form. Like network racks, network cabinets are built to house networking equipment aside from servers such as switches, routers, and patch panels. They are typically utilized in data centers or on-premise networking closets.

Networking equipment normally doesn't generate as much heat as servers, so some network cabinets don’t offer as many cooling features as server cabinets. Still, you should always make sure you have adequate ventilation to maintain healthy performance. Network cabinets come in various configurations, but it’s common to see them use glass, strong plastic, or mesh doors. Mesh doors are the best choice when housing equipment generating significant heat.

Data Racks and Cabinets

The term “data cabinet” or "data rack" is sometimes used interchangeably with “server cabinet" or "server rack." However, data racks and cabinets are often designed for use in locations that need onsite IT equipment but have limited space to house that equipment. A data cabinet or rack provides the required infrastructure in a compact unit.

What is a Data Cabinet?

Data cabinets are typically much smaller than data center server racks — sometimes as little as 8U or 12U in height. They may be freestanding, on casters, or wall-mounted. They are fully enclosed for security but may have ventilated doors and side panels for airflow.

What is a Data Rack?

Data racks are open units for holding patch panels, networking gear, or A/V equipment. Again, they are smaller than their data center counterparts and may be wall-mounted in a wiring closet or media closet.

Posted by Dave Bercovich on January 13, 2022

Dave has 20 years of data center and IT infrastructure sales experience. He has represented manufacturing organizations such as Avaya, Server Technology, & The Siemon Company. As Sales Director with Enconnex, he builds relationships and grows the Enconnex business working with partners, and resellers.

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