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Inside the Rack Building Courses at CEDIA ‘17

One was just not enough.

One was just not enough.

When CEDIA reintroduced a single hands-on, nuts-and-bolts-and-cable-management session called the Rack Building and Wiring Fundamentals Workshop at CEDIA 2016 in Dallas, the available spaces sold out in a heartbeat. This year, CEDIA is offering a total of three of these classes, and one of the gents responsible for building the original curriculum is back for a return engagement: Ian Bryant, CEDIA volunteer, awards judge, and part of the ZenArray team.

Bryant (who last taught the course some years ago in Atlanta) noted that while technology has been roaring ahead, the fundamental rules of bolting gear into a proper frame and distributing weight, air circulation, and cabling properly hasn’t changed much.

Yep, newbies still make some fundamental errors. Loading heavy stuff in the upper slots for easy access creates a dangerously top-heavy rack when the thing needs to be moved. And failing to separate power cables from the lines carrying AV signals? Still a no-no.

CEDIA is offering three opportunities to take the Rack Building and Wiring Fundamentals Workshop at CEDIA 2016 in Dallas.

Sure, “It was a lot bigger deal back when we were doing everything analog–analog lines were really susceptible to interference from power lines,” Bryant said. “It’s not as much of an issue anymore, but if you’re not running a shielded Cat-6 for some of your video cables–if you’re still running Cat-5, you can still get interference.” Speaker wire can get fouled up when it’s next to power lines, too.

Move That Air Around

Another concept that’s often foreign to newly minted installers?

“Most people still don’t understand the difference between an active rack and passive rack,” Bryant said. “A passive rack doesn’t have any controlled circulation of air, of heat management. A passive rack is generally going to be an open rack with no sides to it, no back. You’re just going to let the air around it cool the equipment. When you have a situation where just a few components are in a large rack or if you’re in a data closet where the whole room’s cooled, you don’t always need to cool that individual rack.”

An active rack, on the other hand, relies on fans at the top of the unit with intake at the bottom, and a closed system in between. Air must be drawn all the way through the rack; a gap midway in will pull air from that space upward, bypassing the gear below. “Some of that equipment can get really hot; you can start frying circuits pretty quickly,” Bryant explained.

It’s a big consideration when things have to be hidden, of course (and the integrator becomes something of a marriage counselor when one spouse wants to show off the gear while the other does not). Bryant remembers one instance where the “invisible approach” won the day, and he was tasked with stashing two racks under a staircase–an installation that required its own dedicated AC unit.

Make It Look Good on Paper

Proper documentation and labeling is one thing Bryant can’t stress enough when it comes to building racks.

“Documentation is something we push really hard,” he said. When he’s judged the CEDIA Awards, an entry must have the right papers to be considered, and those pages must measure up to CEDIA standards.

“I’ve worked on people’s homes that had five racks, side by side, fully populated. If you didn’t have the right documentation, you’d be totally lost,” he noted.

Furthermore, “labeling is just as important,” he said. “You can’t properly install without documentation; you can’t troubleshoot without proper labeling.”

Another tip: “Get a good label maker. I’ve seen a lot of people just try and write on a cable–that’s often a problem. Bad handwriting can be a pretty big issue.”

Remember: you’ll be judged by the work you do, even if you’re not around to hear about it. Bryant’s got all manner of horror stories about when he’s had to troubleshoot the work of another firm that ignored due diligence when it came to proper cable management and the attendant schematics. “The worst is always when you come into a system and the client says, ‘Things aren’t working right,’ and you see what looks like a ball of yarn spread all over the room. It’s tough to break the news to them that it’s going to take maybe an entire week with their system down while we unplug everything, document everything, and then rewire it.

“I can’t support a system that’s not up to my standard.”

You can a find a full training and education schedule for CEDIA 2017 at The Rack Building and Wiring Fundamentals Workshop at the San Diego Convention Center, Room 31A, Tuesday, Septemer 5, 1:00-4:00 p.m.; Wednesday, September 6, 8:00 a.m.-Noon; Thursday, September 7, 8:00 a.m.-Noon.