Oftentimes, an enthusiast or business might purchase a tower server and plan to upgrade as their IT needs grow. When the time to expand comes, should they buy a new rack server or install the old tower server into a rack?
Nothing about the tower form factor keeps it from performing as well as a rack mount server, so it might be a good idea to give it a try! As long as it isn’t larger than average, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convert.
Do tower servers fit in racks?
To fit a tower server in a rack horizontally, the tower either has to be less than 17.75 inches tall in a vertical orientation. If it is taller, the rack will need to be able to fit your tower vertically.
Most new tower servers fit this criteria by design. Dell, for instance, sells a Tower-to-Rack Conversion kit that allows you to convert your tower server to a rack mount server. If you want to convert a desktop PC that you are using as a server, you will likely need to purchase a rackmount case and install your components into it.
Because of the demand for converting tower servers into rack servers, most manufacturers design their tower servers to fit horizontally inside of a 19 inch rack. Unfortunately, not all have an easy-to-modify process like Dell’s.
How to rackmount a tower server
Some tower servers come with holes (sometimes called keyhole slots) on the top and bottom that can be used to attach rails. If your server has these holes, then check with your manufacturer to see if there are rails you can purchase. If your manufacturer only allows rails to be purchased along with your server, then you will have to look for 3rd party alternatives.
If your server does not have holes, then the next best options are to use universal rails or shelves. There are pros and cons to each – universal rails don’t have a sliding feature and shelves are more bulky.
Technically you are able to slide equipment in and out of a universal rail easily, but your server will take a beating rather than the rail mechanism. This is because universal rails are essentially two corners of a shelf. The middle support is left out because it is not necessary, would cost more to include and make the product more bulky.
Sliding shelves on the other hand use more material and are typically more expensive. The benefit is mostly having the ability to smoothly slide your server in and out, which makes maintenance and replacement easier.
All of these pieces of mounting equipment can be purchased in tool-less or classic models and are installed like any other server rail.
What are the best racks for tower servers?
If you are considering mounting a tower server in a rack, you probably have a reasonable amount of networking equipment that needs to fit as well. The most important thing here is to make sure that ALL of your equipment will be compatible, along with your tower.
Many people like to have heavy, tall equipment like uninterruptible power supplies on the bottom of their rack, sitting on top of a slide shelf. Placing a full sized tower server upright on a low shelf is a common thing to do, but it will require around 10U of open space.
In addition to that 10U, most people would need another 5U for routers, switches, modems, patch panels or AV equipment. This means that a 16U office cabinet would provide a neat and tidy fit for most people’s setup.
Those who are able and willing to mount their tower server on its side will be able to shave off a few U spaces. Generally the max height of a sideways tower server will be around 4U, giving a space and cost advantage.
With 4U needed for the tower and an additional 5U for other networking equipment, you can find a 9U rack that provides enough space and can fit in more areas. These are technically ‘desktop racks,’ but they are essentially miniature open frame racks.
Still have questions?
We touched on how to determine the amount of space you need in a rack, specifically when mounting tower servers, but these are not the only two solutions for everyone. Depending on your individual circumstances, you might want to contact us to find out if we have any products that are a better fit.