Server Rack: Create your own low-cost rack console

By | May 25, 2016

Because the number of my systems increased moving all my stuff to a rack was the right decision to avoid cable spaghetti and administration hell. But when you have a rack you need to have an administration console for it.

Looking on the market (the deals market) the cheapest console I could find was some heavily discounted 5 years old console for like 400EURO without KVM. A new rack console with KVM can retail at more than 1500EUR for the entry stuff. If you go to the enterprise level consoles (IBM, HP , Dell) you get to the price range of a second-hand car (> $4000). This is crazy so I decided to find better alternatives.

Here is my take on the “low-cost rack console”.

STEP 1: The KVM
Lately I noticed on the market the appearance of this low-cost KVMs intended for small businesses.
I was able to snatch a very good deal for this Startech KVM.
84EUR on Amazon.co.uk StarTech 4 Port Professional VGA USB KVM Switch with Hub

It is perfect for a medium environment:
1. has support for 4 servers (VGA + USB) inputs
2. has one VGA output and 4xUSB , so you can add directly up to 4 USB devices to the output
3. has no need for a power supply as it is self powering from the USB inputs. It has support for an external power supply if you need it when adding some external hard drive to the USB output.
4. It is rack mountable with some extra parts for rack mount bracket. Got it from Amazon.co.uk for approx 22EUR StarTech.com 1U Rackmount Brackets for KVM Switch (SV431 Series)

STEP 2: Cables
The KVM comes without any cables but you just need:
1. 4 VGA male-female cables to link the servers
2. 4 USB AB cables to link the servers
3. 1 standard VGA cable for output
All of the above are under 50EUR in total

STEP 3: Keyboard and mouse
As any geek I already had some USB mouse lying around in some box 🙂 so 0 EUR
Again the same for the keyboard, I already had an unused small factor wireless keyboard from trust. This is again some under 20EUR keyboard. The small factor is important because I can put this keyboard on one of my rack shelfs.

An update was done in this area. I have now a new mechanical keyboard, used as the main keyboard to the Dell system which I use as desktop. It is a unbelievable nice to use and simple mechanical keyboard, the amazon rating says it all see here: VicTsing® Mechanical PC Gaming Keyboard 87 Keys Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with USB Cable, Key Cap Puller for Gaming Schreibkräfte etc – German Keyboard Layou. I highly recommend it as having the best money/quality raport.

As for the server rack main keyboard the following Microsoft All-in-One Media Keyboard – keyboards is a top rack keyboard having replaced the old keyboard and mouse. I am really simulating a console unit with low-cost components and I do not feel one bit the difference of $1000. Again I get to the same conclusion that some server room hardware is overpriced in a big way.

STEP 4: Monitor in the rack
This was the hard part how to find a small monitor and how to put it into the rack.
The solution is again a low-cost one by using a VESA LCD Monitor Mounting Bracket.
I snatched this from Amazon.co.uk for 35EUR. Startech Universal VESA LCD Monitor Mounting Bracket for 19in Rack or Cabinet

The monitor quest was fun, I never realized how hard is to find a small monitor this days. Market is full of 21inch and up monitors. It is like everyone needs huge monitors and TVs.

I ended up finding this LED Philips 18.5″, Wide, Black, 193V5LSB2/10 at the price of 69EUR. A very important factor was the real width of the monitor 437mm. The LCD rack mount bracket has a 444mm internal width so this was a big constraint.
You can find this also on Amazon.co.uk Philips 193V5LSB2/10 – 193V5LSB2/10 193V5L Entry V5 V-Line, Black Hairline, 18,5″, 16.9, W-LED, 1366×768, TN, 90/65 (CR10), 1000:1, 5ms, VESA Mount, Tilt, VGA

See also the post HP Microserver Gen8 compatibility list to see what hardware I am hosting in the described server rack.

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