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Power and Cooling for your Small Server Implementation

Your small business server is the core of your operation, so you need to follow some best practices to keep it running reliably.

The good news about today's servers is that they're a lot like today's PCs. Smaller businesses don't need a data center for them, management can usually be done by someone familiar with managing your company's other computers and, like their PC cousins, they're highly reliable in an office environment. 

But it's important to know that even a server as simple as a Dell EMC PowerEdge T140 Tower still requires some care beyond what you provide for your desktop computers. The reason for the extra care isn't so much because of the design of the server itself, but because the server is at the core of your company's operations. It's where your critical files are kept. It's likely home to your email, and it's probably where your working documents are stored. And, of course, it's also the computer that's always backed up.

The care and feeding of servers

Servers have simple needs: A source of clean, reliable power and an operating environment that keeps them within safe conditions. A server will work perfectly well in normal office conditions, but there are caveats. The biggest variable is the power source. 

Dell EMC Servers can operate on normal office current nearly anywhere in the world. The standard power supplies accept AC current at 100 to 240 volts, 50 or 60 Hertz. But the power also has to be consistent and clean, which means free from surges and sags, and it has to be free of other artifacts from external equipment, such as large electric motors. 

Dell EMC Servers are air-cooled, so they depend on an operating environment with temperatures between 50 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit (10 – 35 Celsius) and a relative humidity below 80 percent. Most offices are well within this range, but there are exceptions. If your server is in a non-air-conditioned space in the southern part of the U.S. for example, days with temperatures over 95 degrees happen every summer. (It's worth noting that PowerEdge T140 and other models have an expanded operating temperature range that pushes the limitations out a bit, but operating at the higher or lower extremes may affect performance.)

UPS isn't just for packages

The simplest way to provide acceptable power to your server is to include an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that has sufficient battery backup to power your server through a brief outage and to allow a graceful shutdown for a longer outage. In addition, a good UPS will filter out the power glitches and surges that can damage your server. 

How much battery capacity you need depends on your server. One good way to tell is to see how much of a power supply your server has. A PowerEdge T140 server has a 365-watt power supply, for example, which means that this is the most power this server can draw. Other servers may have bigger supplies and require more power. 

Unfortunately, UPS units aren't sized in watts, but instead in units called VAs. A typical UPS for a typical server is a 1,500 VA unit, which means it will support servers requiring up to 1,000 watts. But remember, you have to figure in any other equipment that goes with the server, including a monitor or a backup drive, if you plan to use the same power source. Also, that 1,000 watts is the upper end of what the UPS can support, and using this much power would result in a fairly short run time once the main supply goes out.

If your server and related equipment require more than 1,000 watts, as is the case with some larger machines such as the PowerEdge T440, you will need to use a larger UPS, such as a 2,000 VA unit. Two UPS units that are ideal for these servers are the APC SmartUPS 1500 for smaller servers and the SmartUPS 2200 for larger servers. 

Note that while these UPS units have lots of plugs in the back, it's not a good idea to use them for anything besides servers and other essential equipment. You should plan on one UPS for each server, and separate UPS units for other items, such as networking equipment. These UPS units include an Ethernet port for a cloud-based management application, and a USB port that allows communication with the server to initiate a graceful shutdown if needed.

Keep a cool tool

A typical, air-conditioned office environment is just fine for your server. In fact, the server can operate in many non-air conditioned spaces, too, as long as they're not too hot and humid. Servers should be kept out of direct sunlight, because that can raise the internal temperature significantly. Altitude matters, too, because as the air thins, fans become less efficient. According to Dell Technologies, 10,000 feet is as high as you can go.

Some other considerations: The server has to be located in a place where there's a free flow of air for cooling. This means that you can't cram the server against a wall and pile a bunch of stuff around it and expect it to stay cool. Move it away from the wall, and make sure there's room for airflow around the server.

If you decide to protect your server by putting it into a locked closet, you need to make sure that the closet stays cool with the server running. You may need to add ventilation openings in the door, and you may want to include a temperature monitor in the closet. This also applies if you have the server in an office that's not occupied, perhaps because there's a pandemic going on. You need to make sure the air conditioning stays on in that office.

Remember that with proper power and cooling, a server can run nearly forever. But they need to be protected from environmental issues, and of course, against tampering and pilferage. When treated well, the server can be one of the most reliable items in your office.