The difference between server cabinets and network cabinets is an increasingly blurred line as many mounting racks can hold both kinds of devices. However, there are design elements that correlate to a mounting rack being suited better as a network cabinet or a server cabinet. Depending on the size of the rack and the size of the hardware, you can use a single rack to hold both.
A cabinet that’s designed to hold server hardware usually has a greater frame depth than one that’s designed to hold network hardware. Server hardware tends to be larger in size than network hardware. The Electronic Industries Association sets server and network hardware width at a 19-inch width to make sure devices can fit into racks regardless of manufacturer.
Because of the standardized device width, hardware can adjust device depth and height to accommodate hardware and port needs. Whereas servers may need deeper device footprints to accommodate larger motherboards and cooling options, network hardware may need to be taller to fit more ports on the front and back sides of the device.
Because of the physical size needs, network cabinets typically have depths of around 20 inches whereas server cabinets can go to 32 inches and beyond.
While you can’t safely fit a 40 inch server inside a 24 inch deep network rack, you can mount smaller sized network hardware inside a 40 inch deep server rack. It is also possible that you will encounter smaller form servers that comfortably fit inside network cabinets; however, storing smaller-form network hardware inside of a larger server rack can be difficult to manage because you have to reach far into the frame to access the device.
If you block airflow to a modern computer system like a server, there’s a good chance that the device will produce so much heat that it will either force itself to shut down or break. While network hardware produces heat in normal operation, it is nowhere near the same level as the amount of heat a server produces. Cabinets designed with server hardware in mind tend to spread devices out more, offer better airflow, and include self-contained air conditioning units.
Since network cabinets do not have to address heat concerns, the racks tend to stack hardware closer together and feature walls that aren’t designed to increase airflow. Network racks do not have to be designed with airflow in mind and can be hazardous for installed server hardware; however, network hardware installed within a server cabinet is safe.
Server cabinets with self-contained cooling systems may be impractical to share with network hardware because it’s more difficult access cables and ports compared to an opened-back cabinet.
Cross Device Situations
In larger-scale operations it makes sense to use separate cabinets for network and server hardware. However, it might make financial sense to share some server cabinet space with network hardware in a smaller scale operation. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to invest in a separate network cabinet if your network only uses a single 24-port switch and a router.