Jonny, the 12u Rack and the Jig of Death

During my final years at uni I decided to move out of my spacious house on the outskirts of the city to student housing within walking distance of university. There was one problem- the homelab.

At the time my Ikea Lack Rack consisted of a Dell R710 and a Fujitsu 1u hairdryer, amongst some other kit. This was fine when I could afford to dedicate a room to servers but I suspect my new housemate would be less than impressed with a portable jet engine in the kitchen of our tiny flat.

I wanted to build a lab that I could run all day, had enough power to run all the latest VMware products but had to be as quiet as possible and fit within a small footprint. I convinced my housemate to agree to a small corner in our living room becoming the resting place for what turned into my eco friendly vSAN homelab. I had a LOT of trouble finding a rack that would fit the space and budget. I sourced a Startech 12u wall mountable rack, but when it arrived it was damaged. I was going to have to source another rack if I sent this one back, so the bendy rack stayed.

Over the years, the rack changed depending on what I was doing at the time (read: making bigger).

After university I moved back to the edge of the city, into a real house with space to swing cats and such, as one does; and built a two node vSAN lab on Dell eBay finds. The problem here was that the rack was half depth and Dell R520s are most definitely not. A little drilling accidentally happened, and I was left with the front and rear of the rack with some rails in the middle holding everything together.

Fast forward a few months super long time and I fancied a change. Anyone running a homelab knows the lab is never complete. I found a fantastic deal on a Dell VRTX and the eBaying and heavy lifting began once more. Until I’d physically set the VRTX in front of my rack I’d forgotten one small but important detail- the rack is bent. The VRTX chassis is 5U tall. Not going to happen.

Once stripped, I realised how bent the rack actually was

I had a go at straightening the rack with a mallet and some “gentle massaging” but even with the bulk of the structure cut away, the frame was still seriously strong.

So I came up with a plan. Fitting my entire lab into this silly bent rack had become a weird obsession… thing… and I wasn’t about to let a little bit of malformed metal stand in my way. So I built (what thankfully turned out to not be aptly named) the “jig of death”. I attached the rack frame to the pallet the VRTX was delivered on with some scrap wood and bolts I had lying about the garage. Leverage was provided through use of a ladder and a climbing sling.

Other than being transported from a world using metric to one using some other bizarre scale, against all odds, it worked!

I then used some B&Q timber to create a more solid structure for the mammoth VRTX chassis.

I later added more side bracing, just in case.

So there you have it. Some people like 42u racks. Personally, I like the challenge of fitting everything into the 12u (not so bent) bendy rack.


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