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Ask HN: How to make a photogenic server room
69 points by focusedone 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments
We are opening a new office and will have our network / server gear in a room with a large window facing a customer reception area. We’re told it’d be nice if the racks looked nice through the glass. Does anyone sell…decorative server equipment? Something useless with a bunch of blinky lights? This is one of the stranger requests we’ve dealt with.



Wide racks, structured cabling, cable combs, "real" overhead tray, clever lighting. Buy multiple exact lengths of cables instead of using service loops. Use the right kind of PDUs to minimize power cable lengths.

You can order custom racks and have them use any metal or paints that you want.

Hire good electricians, get them to bend hard metallic conduit instead of flexible or plastic, have it bundled instead of just surface mounted. Additionally have an engineer draw up all of the conduit plans ahead of time instead of just letting the electricians figure out something random.

Edit: Buy loopback SFP modules and put them in all unused ports on switches and servers, then set the port on a VLAN and/or IP address that doesn't go anywhere. Then use multicast pings to make it blink.

Edit 2: Buy more switches to do this kind of thing if you don't have enough switches to make it look interesting. You could use bunches of 48 short 6 inch cables to make a routing protocol lab on several pieces of 10+ year old equipment, and then have beautiful blinking lights all over the place.


I think this is bad advice, frankly. Such things are not unusual, non-tech suits always want blinkenlights and such, because they think it'll impress prospective customers. The stories I could tell, datacenters like circus acts.

The key is to keep the blinkencrap away from the real network/servers/patch panels, because those things have to actually work at all times, and it's your neck if it doesn't.

When you start adding extra switches and whatnot to the network just because they look and blink nice, you're actually adding points of failure into the network, stuff that can affect your network for whatever reason if something goes wrong.

I would advise either outright refusing to do it, or adding completely unconnected bling like rsync's comment lists -- expensive junk that serves no purpose except look flashy. But just never connect that crap to a production network.


I'm not the one who initially suggested decorative server equipment... the original poster is clearly working under duress.


Did you mean to respond to OP? OP is the one requesting decorative server equipment.


If you want some bling in your server racks you can add 1U and 2U multi-monitor displays and show status and/or visualization on small displays that most people aren't aware even exist:

https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/1U-2-Rackmount-LCD-Pa...

https://www.pimfg.com/product-detail/RACK-LCD-35-4

https://www.amazon.com/Blackmagic-Design-Smartview-Rackmount...


Very useful in a server room


Apple at NAB 2007 is peak server room aesthetic to me. https://appleinsider.com/articles/07/04/19/high_quality_phot...

All that gear is EOL now and can be picked up for cheap on ebay. Setup some xserves to just send data back and forth between Xserve raid arrays for maximum blinken lightsen


Really cool! Thanks for sharing. I miss Apple products from those years.


Network patch panels with nicely bundled wires might work; switches often have numerous blinky lights.

You could dig up some antique gear and make it run: tape loader robots or even 9 track tapes with reels. It's been a long time since they did flashy innards on display stuff like that so its in the uncomfortable range between "scrap" and "industrial antiques" now.

Or just admit it's all for show and commission an artist to make something cool. We have better blinky lights technology than ever before with addressable RGB LED strips and panels and many examples of their use.

You can tell the bosses that putting real production servers on display would be a security issue. say "Tempest" and nod knowingly. As long as you dont smirk they'll usually go along.


You could pretty reasonably hook up a string of ws2812s to be a server load monitor or similar... might be a fun project.


Honestly I would go get some gaming PC bling (RGB lights etc) and build a 'fake' server room that's just for marketing or show, but not actually used for anything serious. Whatever makes the silly boss/owner that made the demand happy.

At the same time aggressively build out cheaper cloud or proper on-prem server hosting room. Because ultimately what is the lowest cost to run will be pretty boring with high density racks and absolute minimum of power sucking junk like extra lights, etc. I'd be far more concerned about physical security, fire suppression, backup power and cooling than bling factor for a real on-prem datacenter.


One thing that I saw that was kinda cool... cutouts in the floor of the reception area that had cable and fiber running under the floor into the data center, with glass floor tiles above, and some lights in the channel.

Kicker? It was all left over cable, and didn't go to or from anywhere.


Do you have any pictures of such an installation?



Woah, love that idea and it looks really cool. Thanks!


Additional information: nothing mission critical is in this room. Everything important is in another building. This room is almost completely decorative.

The coolest idea so far has been switches with loopback sfps - that's brilliant! We've got some decommissioned stuff that'd be perfect for that.


Ask Reddit at /r/cableporn. They will be thrilled to have you.


Hire an actor to wander through the server room every so often wearing a black hoodie with the hood up, sticking cables and USBs into different parts of the equipment. Especially during security audits and investor meetings, but also during the CEO's all-hands meeting.


Extra Points if they wear a guy fawkes mask.


Create a waterproof wall of glass around the room's glass walls, fill the between space with water and aquarium plants, put some fish.

And in the server space proper, put a Cray in the middle, the one that looks like a 60s outer space couch, and hire a couple of str--

I think the fish will do fine.


Q: What kind of fish belongs in a server room? A: A crayfish!


At UQ in Queensland we hung a plastic yabbie inside the crays flourinert recycling tank (The flourinert tank had a ballcock and was basically like a see through toilet cistern, hidden inside a normal cabinet.)

(A yabbie is an Australian crayfish)


That's awesome! I've been thinking a lot lately about ways to combine fish and computers. When I built my desktop shelving unit/staging area at work, I designed it around our fleet PCs but also (secretly) to fit an aquarium. Coworkers have joked that I could circulate aquarium water to cool PCs and heat the tank, but for a number of reasons I really don't think that's going to happen.


I helped build an aquarium into the shell of a big old "console" TV, long ago.

I could see something like that done with say an iMac G3. [1] or a Televideo 9xx [2]

[1] https://techblog.se/files/2021/03/iMac-G3-Top-2048x1973.jpg

[2] http://i.pinimg.com/736x/ed/9c/c9/ed9cc9212826f8d9ada039478f...


I do have an iMac G3, but it would kill me to turn it into an aquarium. Not only is it an elegant computer for a more civilized era, but it wouldn't hold enough water to keep most fish happy.


I was looking at the one on my pile and thinking "betta tank". I think it'd have to sit with he front of the screen at an angle, tho; to make the most of the volume. Put it on a high shelf and let the fish look down on your desk.


Stuff some Christmas lights into some empty computer cases, especially ones that automatically blink and fade. Also, get a fog machine that you can turn on whenever you need a break from work (just remember to keep stocked up on fogger juice)


Fog looks a lot like smoke. I’m not sure that’s what you want to see coming from the server room…


That's why I mentioned that it should be used when OP needs a break from work


Making it neat will probably go farther than adding fake blinking lights. Avoid empty rack spaces, dangling cables, etc.


Have a small antique desk for the operator, get an SGI or an iMac G3 on there, add an (empty) cocktail glass.


I was once asked to be a partly-decorative sysadmin in a similar situation but offered to split the fees with an actual male model in a smart suit while I did the crawling under desks bit...

What are model rates in your area compared to cost of eye candy hardware?


I’ve been fascinated with this idea of photogenic spaces such as restaurants and other spaces where people want to take selfies or group photos, though I have no formal training in interior design or architecture.

I’ve enjoyed visiting the end of year show at the Cooper Union in NYC and it’s clear the architecture students are also interested to envision, qualify and quantify what the viewer and your basic mobile device ‘see’ from different vantage points. For example, lenses have a field of vision which is also effected by distance. Right?

So if you’re asked to have input, you might consider seeing the space and taking some reference photos. What will you see (area) and what can you see (resolution) of the space?

If the space isn’t built yet, and architects are involved, they should have 3D walk through models. They might also have input, though their advice might be to align the server racks at a 20degree angle to the wall or something that would make an engineer scratch their head for the wasted space (space=money).

Of course manufacturers put a lot of design considerations into the bezels and plastic farkles of their products because it does look impressive.

Lacking the budget for a premier brand server, just look at Reddit electricians to see some impressive ‘cable management’ which is pretty to look at.

But honestly, my first reaction to photogenic servers behind glass? Reflections will wreak havoc with the image—you might not see diddly in the photo. Another reason the architect should be consulted.


Buy servers from https://oxide.computer/ ?


Get network cables with colors that coordinate with your company's branding.


Hire talented pros, who care about the details, to design your rack and do your cabling. I can give you some referrals if you'd like. I was on the project to build Apple Park and I know the guys who did the cabling for that job. Extremely clean and attractive work.


How about the alternative of leaving it a rats nest of wires and adding an animated sculpture of an IT person trying to make sense of it all?




Just a thought. You can buy low-voltage very pretty LED strip lighting in just about any colour for next to nothing. Maybe just get whatever racks/servers/you want and then decorate them with these...?


I hope very much you update us with your solution. Forgive me for not sounding as empathetic as I would like, but the bemused tone of your posts here has me cracking up. Good luck with this situation.


Is it just one rack? Just get an enclosed rack and have your companies marketing people get a vinyl overlay printed for the front (ala the current Cray Supercomputers.)


Yes, you can get blinky boxes from prop houses. They will cost too much, because they're usually rented by the day. Also try this recycling company.[1]

More usefully, just make everything tidy, and put a big screen or two, running some kind of status display, in there, facing the window.

[1] https://www.protekrecycling.com


Doors. Get doors on the racks and screen print them with the company logo. It looks sharp, doesn't cost much, and hides a multitude of sins.


Get one of these as a ceterpiece: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cray-1

Put the real servers around it, and make sure to put a lot of LEDs on them. If the company is good, use blue LEDs. If the company is evil, use red LEDS.


salvage faceplates from a bunch of old suns and netapps and use them to cover all your modern gear!

put an atari console in the middle with a cartridge sticker with the name of your company on and a portable crt television with rotary channel dials rendering an 8-bit home computer era rendition of a grafana graph.


> We’re told it’d be nice if the racks looked nice through the glass.

> Something useless with a bunch of blinky lights?

Now I'm realizing what the purpose of all of those random blinking lights on the Star Trek bridge were for.


The key to any ambient aesthetic lighting is that the light not be directly visible. I will custom build you server racks that look beautiful for a hell of a lot less than you can buy them. Message me for a quote


Pro tip: put your email address in your HN profile. This site doesn’t have a concept of messaging.


And yet somehow you messaged me to tell me that?


This is a public comment, not a message. I have offered up my phone number to people in comments like this and was chided for it even though I understood the risk.

Maybe after you learn the difference between messaging and public comments you’ll understand I was trying to help. Now, OTOH, I’m deliberately returning the favor of your sarcasm.


Colour coordinated network cables


I love Linus' (tech tips) neon-pink rack!


Colocate your servers in proper datacetner.




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