Traditionally, the server, storage, and network equipment housed in data centers around the globe get all the attention.  Headlines are crafted around hyperscale computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), or anything that furthers the digital revolution taking place in the cloud.  But recently, the spotlight has been back on the brick-and-mortar data center and, interestingly, on one of its lesser celebrated elements — the server cabinet.

Data center cabinets have been the proverbial wallflower at the dance, quietly housing the IT gear and standing in the shadows as the gear gets all the attention. But the thinking about these cabinets is changing to focus on flexibility in an increasingly competitive data center landscape.  As anyone who has lived through the last several waves of server density increases and compute evolutions knows, designing a fixed physical infrastructure to support a constantly moving target is challenging at best.

Data centers must be designed with both past and future demands in mind. They deliver power and cooling to loads that are, to the most demanding of facilities. Because of this, flexibility and modularity are no longer philosophical design precepts but operational imperatives that have made their way directly into modern server cabinet design.


modern server cabinet design
Flexibility and modularity are no longer philosophical design precepts but operational imperatives that have made their way directly into modern server cabinet design.
Image by Legrand


Highly configurable and flexible

The underlying need for flexibility and modularity in the data center is the need to meet the evolving demands of the IT power load. Electrical systems are designed to quickly add capacity on demand, and cooling systems are designed to adapt to the constantly shifting heat loads in the rack row — to optimize the system’s efficiency and, thus, lower the facility's operating cost. Another critical driver for flexibility and modularity in the data center is capital preservation:  investing only what is needed when it is required and ensuring the longevity of this investment. As the demure server cabinet is the nexus of IT equipment and its associated mechanical and electrical support systems, it only follows that it, too, has been brought to the forefront.

Modern cabinet design eschews the monolithic approaches of the past. It recognizes that within the constraints of the standard cabinet footprint, flexibility and modularity can still be delivered through highly configurable components — designed to better support airflow, power distribution, and network management. Moreover, it recognizes that the cabinets need to have a life span beyond the current build. This requirement calls for a reevaluation of every element of a standard rack: the frame, sides, top, and doors, as well as the standard accessories associated with mounting, security, and monitoring.

Efficiency and sustainability

The next evolution in cabinet design will need to have efficiency and sustainability at its core — if it is to meet new corporate goals for improving energy and cooling efficiency and support global corporate sustainability and responsibility initiatives. The operators of today’s hyperscale and colocation facilities are at the forefront of sweeping initiatives that focus on renewable data center energy, and global manufacturers are working to support these efforts with cabinets that comply with these demands, using the following key design elements.

  • Smart  
    • Modular top-of-cabinet design — flexible options for improved cabling.
    • Freedom of movement — adjustable mounting rails for more positions.
    • Ease of maintenance — changes made easily from inside the cabinet.
    • Highly configurable components — ready to ship .
  • Solid
    • Light and solid frame — made from lightweight aluminum.
    • Unique door design — full integration of the locking systems and cabling.
  • Secure
    • Highest-level security — featuring the most secure electronic door-locking platforms.
    • High-security cable management — integrating into the door and tamper-proof door mechanisms.
  • Sustainable
    • Airflow management — optimal design with side barriers to be installed between two deployed cabinets.
    • Manufacturing process — made with environmentally friendly materials.

The next generation in cabinets will fully support the principles of modern cabinet design and will be highly configurable and supported with flexible and sustainable features. These new cabinets will have the ability to change rack PDU and cabling positions on the fly and without special brackets — ready to support future server deployment without replacement. They will also possess the capability to add airflow management components, such as side and end-row panels after deployment, for added flexibility and more thoughtful capital preservation strategies.

A flexible future

The movement to finally address the data center cabinet — and bring it out of the shadows and into modern design initiatives — is the step forward that the data center industry has needed. Bringing flexibility to the cabinet itself aligns with the advancements data centers have recently been making on the whole.