Pros and cons of open frame server racks

Open frame server racks are very popular due to their versatility and affordability. They come in many shapes and sizes, and can be configured from bare-bones to something that looks more similar to an enclosed rack. 

In this article, we’ll be discussing which users will be most satisfied with an open frame rack, and which might prefer opting for an enclosed rack.

2 Post vs 4 Post 

4 Post and 2 Post server racks

As a preface, open frame racks are available in 2 post and 4 post variants. 

2 post racks are ideal for lighter networking equipment because of their limited weight capacity and mounting orientation. 

4 Post racks can carry more weight, and therefore are better suited for full sized servers, desktops, uninterruptible power supplies and can still mount lighter equipment used in 2 post racks.  

Most 2 post racks on the market are open frame, but in more niche scenarios, like when wall mounting a rack, they are sometimes enclosed. Because of this, most comparisons we’ll be making revolve around open frame 4 post racks and enclosed 4 post racks. 

Open frame rack installation

Most 2 post racks are shipped disassembled. This is because they are easier to put together than enclosed racks and it makes for cheaper shipping. 

Enclosed racks are much more likely to be sent assembled, especially if they are welded instead of bolted. Unfortunately, this means that racks over a certain U height will incur freight shipping cost as they need to be sent in shock isolating boxes on a pallet. 

All-in-all, assembly shouldn’t be a deal breaker because putting an open frame rack together is pretty straightforward. It will be broken down into about 12 pieces, and at the end of the day, it’s just a big rectangle. 

The last caveat regarding open frame rack installation is that some will need to be anchored to the floor. This is mostly the case for 2 Post racks that are holding significant weight and 4 post racks that don’t have casters and levelers.  

Structural advantages of open frame racks

Open frame rack in use
Although your open frame rack likely doesn’t have the strength that an enclosed rack might, it provides a significantly greater amount of accessibility in a smaller form factor. 

Here are the situations where an open frame racks has structural advantages over enclosed racks: 

  1. In an already secured server room 
  2. When racks need to be side by side
  3. When installing equipment or performing maintenance
  4. In a situation with limited space 

If a company or individual has the capacity for a secured server room in their workspace, then buying an open frame rack might be more economical. The decision ultimately comes down the level of security that is needed for the particular operation. 

Customers interested in setting up a row of racks that are side by side might also find it more economical to opt for an open frame rack. These racks are designed, or have accessories that assist with keeping them side-by-side in a nearly airtight fashion. 

If a row of open frame racks are kept side by side, then the lack of having side panels which would “enclose” a rack becomes a non-issue. Additionally, highly configurable open frame racks like our Open Frame Server Racks allow easy deployment of Side Panel Kits which can be installed in racks at the end of each row to assist in air containment. 

For someone not concerned about stacking racks side-by-side, the open sides of the rack can be useful when installing and removing the equipment for maintenance. More angles of access make it easier to manage cables and can be beneficial for random issues you might encounter. 

And finally, open frame racks will likely be more lightweight and bare bones than an enclosed rack with equivalent features. Opting for an open frame rack might save space. 

Open frame rack conveniences 

Because open frame racks use less metal, they typically cost less than an enclosed rack with similar features. Even though they cost less, they don’t have to be ridden of features. You can find anything from a basic, no-frill rack to a Data Center Rack with built in vertical cable management bars, heavy-duty casters and adjustable uprights.

When you have something like a vertical cable management tray on an open frame rack, it’s much easier to organize cables. In order to route cables on these, they need to be tethered to the tray using zip ties or hook & loop straps. When you are able to access the tray from both the front and the back, it makes the organization process much easier. 

And finally, open frame racks have more exposure to the environment around it. This is particularly useful for those who don’t have a hot/cold aisle setup and are relying on the ambient temperature of a room in order to keep their system as cool as possible. 

Where do enclosed racks beat out open frame racks? 

16u office cabinet

Enclosed racks are generally better when it comes to :

  1. Security
  2. Controlling airflow
  3. Providing resistance to natural disaster
  4. Hiding cables and equipment

Most enclosed racks will have lockable front and back doors, which are essential in operations that require world class security. They also can be useful for protecting equipment from children or coworkers. 

Open frame racks are great at letting ambient air in, but in some scenarios, this is a disadvantage. In more sophisticated cooling setups, admins want cold air only coming in through the front of the rack, and hot air only exiting through the back. Enclosed racks contain air more easily, which prevents leakage into hot or cold aisles. 

Data centers in certain areas of the world have no option but to buy seismic grade racks, and virtually all of them are enclosed. The quality of seismic racks range, but even an enclosed rack with stabilizing brackets added will be seismic compliant and enough to withstand average earthquake conditions. 

Or, maybe a customer just doesn’t like the aesthetics of an open frame rack with silver rails and servers scattered around. An enclosed rack gives a fully assembled appearance, which can blend better with any room that you put it inside. 

Still have questions? 

If you’re still unsure about which rack is perfect for you, feel free to contact us so that we can help find exactly what you need. 

Additionally, if there are any custom requirements that you are unable to find in the market, we will be able to build it. With 20 years of experience building IT infrastructure for top tech companies, our engineers are ready to make exactly what you need with a quick turnaround time. 


Pros and cons of open frame server racks