I need advice on mounting an Xserve
March 27, 2008 7:38 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone think of a reason that would prevent me from mounting an older g4 xserve flush against a wall?

I recently acquired an older Xserve (g4 1.33ghz, Gigabit ethernet, 2tb hd and fw 800 for add on storage) that I want to put to use as a time machine backup station, media server and perhaps seedbox. The problem is, I don't have the space to set up a rack for it in my apartment. What I would really like to do is mount the xserve flush against a wall (with spacers perhaps to aid airflow) and then doing something interesting with the top cover (like drilling a few thousand pinholes and installing LEDs inside the case) to art it up a bit.

Can anyone think of a reason that I should not do this? Assuming I can find solid studs to build the mounting hardware on, I can't. Any other advice welcome, and if you've seen something similar I'd love a link.
posted by SECONDHANDSMOTE to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've never had an xserve before, so I can only hypothesize about potential problems. Would a lack heat dissipation (even with the spacers) be an issue? I know that walls (depending on where in the US you live) should be insulated, and I'm wondering if that would be an issue, or if this is just BS.

If this works...I think I want to do it too. Awesome idea, dude. I wouldn't drill the holes though.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:44 PM on March 27, 2008

Since the airflow is from front to rear you may want to mount the unit with the rear end up. The only drawback I can see is the tray loading CD drive probably won't hold a CD if you ever have to use it.
posted by Gungho at 8:07 PM on March 27, 2008

Best answer: Xserves, like virtually all other 1u hardware, are designed to take in cool air at the front, and exhaust hot air at the back. As long as you allow for this airflow, you'll be fine. The side (bottom) that you're planning on putting flush with the wall is designed to be nearly flush with another rack-mounted computer, so yes, you can put it right up against the wall (though I might put a piece of mylar-backed foam insulation in place between it and the wall, to keep from heating the drywall.

Now... I'd also probably mount it "sideways", so the airflow was horizontal. You don't want the system exhausting straight down (that's bad for cooling)... and you probably don't want the front of the unit to be facing the floor either.
posted by toxic at 8:10 PM on March 27, 2008

Best answer: Also, if you do drill holes in the top cover, be sure to go back over them with epoxy, or put a clear piece of plastic in place or something similar, so the top cover is still pretty close to air tight. The system is designed as a giant air duct, and you don't want to disturb that by leaving holes in it.
posted by toxic at 8:13 PM on March 27, 2008

Response by poster: @Gungho - This is one of the slot loading drives, but even then I don't know how well they work vertically. I was actually thinking about mounting it with the front (drive access) and the rear (IO) going left to right.
posted by SECONDHANDSMOTE at 8:13 PM on March 27, 2008

A lot of rackmount hardware can be used outside of a rack, as long as you don't block the airflow and don't crush it or subject it to forces that it wouldn't encounter in a rack.

However, having it exhaust downwards (as toxic also said) is probably the worst possible configuration. Turning it so that the exhaust pointed up would probably be better.

Drilling lots of holes in the case strikes me as a really bad idea. I'm sure you'll be able to "art it up" but you may not have a very functional server at the end. Not only could you have problems with airflow and RFI just from drilling the holes, I'm not sure how you would run all the wires to the LEDs you want to put inside the case. There's not exactly a lot of space inside 1U servers. If you really feel like you need to pimp it out, I'd use the thinnest wires inside that you can find, and make sure to route them as close to existing structures as you can. Then I'd seal all the holes or cover the case with plexiglass. I still think it's a poor idea though, and probably way more likely to be a cause of failure than just mounting it vertically will. Maybe you could put it in some sort of box/sleeve or enclosure and decorate that? All that needs to be exposed is the top and bottom.

Back to the issue of positioning, have you considered keeping it horizontal and just mounting it in an out-of-the-way place? Like, say, above your head? It's actually pretty easy (and there are plans around for) suspending rackmount equipment from a ceiling. (Here's a legit commercial setup if you want inspiration.) If I was going to do it, I'd probably do it with PowerStrut and wood of some sort; similar to hanging a projector, just not as beastly. (In my head I'm picturing 4 pieces of strut and two pieces of wood to form side rails for the server as the bare minimum.) I think if you did that right, you'd only lose a few inches of headroom plus the thickness of the server, and it would remain horizontal, get lots of airflow, and be up and out of your way.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:44 PM on March 27, 2008

Can anyone think of a reason that I should not do this?
Yes -- those things are as noisy as all hell. You don't want it exposed in the same apartment as you, unless it's in a closed case.
posted by bonaldi at 9:46 PM on March 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Not only are they noisy as all hell, mounting one to the wall will make the whole wall resonate, which will make it even louder.

Do not want.
posted by kindall at 12:42 AM on March 28, 2008

As bonaldi and kindall have pointed out, early Xserves are extremely, extremely loud. Like a commercial jet engine. People who tried to use them as video-editing stations for Final Cut realized they had to be mounted in special acoustically-insulated racks before they were tolerable -- and this was in an office, not home, environment.

Also to be considered is the annual electricity usage -- the Xserve fans run all the time, and very little of the setup is optimized for power savings during periods of low use. How long till that equals the cost of a used G4 Mac Mini?

Finally, although the hardware quality is quite high, you may find yourself in for an unpleasant surprise when you need to replace one of the components, especially the hard drives. Though UltraATA-based, the drives have special connectors and virtually none of the economies of scale which have made mass storage so affordable recently will apply. Example: 500GB Time Capsule, $300. 500GB hard drive for your G4 Xserve: $580.

I'm as much of a fan of old server hardware as anybody, but sometimes you hit a tipping point where newer hardware is not only more efficient, but actually cheaper in the long run.
posted by squid patrol at 2:32 AM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

As others have said, there are some severe disadvantages to using rackmount hardware in places other than server rooms/colocation facilities. Generally speaking, rackmount servers are not designed with the idea that humans will be anywhere near them, hence the noise they all make. The loud, loud noise. I've got a few 1Us I keep around the office as spares from our colo, Intel boxes - not Xserves just to clarify. I've idly considered bringing one home and bolting it to the wall in my office/storage room as a server, but the things I keep in mind are:

- I don't want to hear its incessant hair-dryer-on-low drone all day and night
- I don't want to pay for its power bill (my 1Us draw 300W all day long!!! That's $12 in electricity a month where I live.)
- I don't want to pay more to dissipate its heat in the summer. A side effect of the energy draw is they blowtorch heat out the back, which means extra work for the AC.

So yeah, I love my rackmount boxes. Especially when they're far away from me at the colo facility, with its big insulated doors, and all you can eat electricity and cooling.
posted by barc0001 at 2:56 AM on March 28, 2008

I used to toy with the idea myself, around the time used Xserves began to be more and more commonplace (a couple or so years back), but tossed it out mainly because of: Noise (as several have said already, they're REALLY loud -- think the G5 fans roaring at full speed, then multiply by three or four -- and the fans ALWAYS run at that rate); no practical way to mount/house it, given its odd shape and my lack of any kind of rack; expansion would be far more expensive than for a desktop.

I know, having an Xserve in your apartment is cool. But unless you're doing something that specifically requires the special features of the Xserve (failover, hot-swappability, etc.), it just doesn't make sense. You can get a used G5 for less, and it's (a) much quieter, (b) uses less power, and (c) is a hell of a lot cheaper to add memory, hard drives, etc. to. Plus, it'll be a lot faster.
posted by CommonSense at 8:53 AM on March 28, 2008

Response by poster: @ALL
Many have mentioned the same things so I'll run down my thinking on each.

cost: I'm getting this thing cheap, it's used but in good condition. The seller is more concerned with cleaning out space than with taking the time to sell it on ebay. I know I could get a faster machine for the same or less, but the aesthetics of the xserve really speak to me.

storage: As I mention, it's already got 2tb of storage (500gb in each sled) which pretty much maxes out the ata100 drive possibilities. Then I can add on FW800 drives as my needs grow (but that might take a while).

noise: I've been sitting around this machine day in and day out for about six months. It's not terribly loud to my ears, but I'm looking into replacing the stock fans with quieter ones and/or finding a way to passively cool. The vibration can probably be handled with proper mounting, I think so anyway.

@CommonSense - some good points on power consumption that I hadn't considered. I'll have to look into the power consumption and management options on this blade.
posted by SECONDHANDSMOTE at 9:48 AM on March 28, 2008

Sounds like an interesting project, good luck! Passive cooling with four winchester drives in a 1U space would be a... challenge, I think. Likewise, your best power management choices are going to involve spinning down as many of those hard drives as you can, as often as you can, which may negate the purpose of an always-on server.

Another option would be to keep one or two of the drives out of the machine and available for hot-swap in case of a RAID failure, while simultaneously making the Xserve run cooler and quieter.

It's too bad that none of the G4 Xserves have USB2.0, which would otherwise be a nice way to expand storage. Since you mention FireWire 800 you must have the later, Slot-loading CD model. Here are the power consumption specs for the the slot-loading G4 Xserves (as well as the earlier tray-loading models.) With 4 drives going I'm going to guess somewhere north of 250 watts ...
posted by squid patrol at 6:24 AM on March 30, 2008

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