Doc / Family / A Server Rack for the Home Office

One of my recent family computing adventures was installing a relay rack in my ``server closet.'' This was, of course, ``family computing'' mainly in the sense that the family got to watch Daddy toting large objects in from the car, bending into unusual positions, and occasionally making comments only marginally suitable for polite company. We also had a six-foot black obelisk (or at least the outline of one) in the living room for half a day. Nothing unusual came out of it.


A ``relay rack'' consists of a pair of metal rails 19 inches apart, and was originally designed for supporting telephone switching equipment and the like. The general idea is to get the equipment off the floor, solidly supported, and well-organized. Quite frankly, the closet needed it.

Our home office and family computer room was originally the ``back bedroom'' up until our first child was born and we remodelled the house. After that, I lined it with shelves, including a 2-foot-wide shelf that goes all around the room and serves as a sort of desk. Being a large horizontal surface, whatever pieces weren't covered with monitors and keyboards immediately accumulated a foot-deep layer of unopened junk mail, magazines, receipts, and random debris.

The closet, almost exactly four feet wide and a little under three feet deep, is located next to the door that leads to the living room. There's no door on the closet itself, but when the office door opens it mostly covers the closet's opening. By putting my noisiest computer, the main Linux server, behind the door and lining the back of the door with carpet scraps, I was able to cut the noise down almost to nothing.

The closet also has a low ceiling, which it shares with the closet that used to belong to the front bedroom (now the dining room after removing a wall) and the front bathroom. A couple of holes in the ceiling in the corner behind the door provide access to the attic where the phone cables run. Copying the phone installation where I work, I had bolted a piece of plywood to that wall and attached a couple of shelves to it for the printer and the ethernet hub.

Did I mention the file cabinets? There were two of them. Each was on a little plywood base with casters, and I made another for the computer.

Doing It

The main bit of preparation needed was getting ready to empty the closet. The file cabinets just rolled out, but since there was only going to be room for one of them with the rack in, I had to do some consolidating before taking the other out to the garage. (Actually the first step was getting three 3-by-4-foot pieces of plywood home in a Nissan Sentra, an adventure in its own right. But I digress.) I also pre-assembled the rack and left it in the living room overnight. The piece of plywood intended for the floor had previously had its edges rounded over with a sander, and three coats of Varathane applied. The 7-year-old helped; she's showing distinct signs of becoming a tool freak like her father.

Sunday morning, after reading my e-mail, User Friendly, and Linux Today, I shut down the server, rolled everything out of the closet, and took out the two shelves and the layer of ancient linoleum on the floor. One of the file cabinets stayed in the middle of the office floor while the other, now empty, was rolled in the general direction of the garage.

The next step was putting plywood on the back wall and the floor. The finished piece just dropped on the floor.The plywood on the back wall was left unfinished, in good old phone company tradition.

Next, the rack went in and the two shelves went on. Some of the screws had to be spoken to rather sharply before they would go in. Next came a few minutes of jockying for position, trying to find a location that would allow the office door to open fully and still maximize the amount of space behind the rack. Finally I bolted the rack to the sheet of plywood on the floor.

At this point it was mostly all over, except that I hadn't realized, the night before, that one of the file cabinets didn't have sides. Naturally that was the one I'd picked to keep, so I had to roll the other one back and transfer four drawers worth of folders one more time. Finally, about 2:00 in the afternoon, all the bumping and grinding was over and I could fire up the server again, now happily ensconced on the bottom shelf of the rack.

Bottom line, about $300: $110 for the rack, 110 for the shelves, $50 for the plywood, and the rest for tax.

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Stephen R. Savitzky <>