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The proliferation of small devices such as distribution amplifiers, extenders, converters and signal processors has created a new category of equipment that doesn’t easily fit into a standard 19in rack.

Newer racks on the market provide smart, future-proof capabilities and features, making it easy for integrators to build the right configuration for the job since its capabilities go beyond the traditional options with clever small-device mounting built-in.

Without these options, integrators are faced with increased challenges during installation, sometimes overlooking best practices that keep all the components in the rack secure, cool, and powered.

Simply finding a place for all these small pieces of equipment in a standard rack is difficult. Installers often have to get creative to adapt them into a cabinet built for full-size rack mounting.

Half-rack-sized devices (or smaller) are not always designed to be mounted on a shelf or strapped to the back of a rack, yet that’s often where they end up — secured with wire ties or Velcro, or mounted to some type of plate.

Furthermore, as devices get smaller, they go into places where there may be no rack at all such as in a conference room, huddle space, or utility closet — where space is at a premium or already occupied by other similarly sized devices. There is only so much equipment you can conceal under a table, behind a display mount, or in a piece of furniture.

A common mistake is to put the devices in an out-of-reach location — in the back of a rack, for example — where they are difficult to access and service. More importantly, mounting devices in this manner can also block airflow.

Much of today’s rack mount equipment stays cool by pulling cold air in from the front and exhausting hot air out the back. By loading smaller devices behind the larger rack mount gear, you create thermal issues that can cause equipment to overheat and malfunction.

Cable management becomes an issue as well. Small devices usually require their own power sources, which means there are DC power bricks or wall warts that need to be plugged in. Because the plugs take up more space in a power strip, you need more power strips to accommodate all of them — and more power. What’s more, the devices also have other cables (e.g., category and coax) going in and out, creating an unwieldy mass of cables in an already constrained space.

Here are four ways to mitigate some of these common small-device rackmount challenges:

• Mount smaller devices to the side of the cabinet. By keeping devices on the side rather than in front of or behind other equipment, you also maintain airflow to keep equipment cool.

• If the project and rack allows, consider a shelf or cabinet built for small devices. If you have multiple small devices from a single manufacturer, check if that manufacturer offers a mounting system built specifically for those products. If you have small devices from multiple vendors, look for a universal mounting system.

• When planning the installation, be aware of the power and cable requirements, and be sure to leave space for them. Consider a rack mountable universal power supply that can drive multiple small devices, which eliminates the need to have separate power for each device.

• In these tight spaces, take special care with the cables themselves to allow for service and take the stress off of the connection. For example, leave a service loop of cable, follow the bend radius, avoid over-tightening, and be aware of pull force.

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