Simple Tools for Describing Rack Layouts

Often when a system at work is having a problem I won’t actually know where it is. I can remember where most of the network kit is located, but not all, and certainly not all the servers connected.

Two tools we already use can help: Netdisco shows which switch port a device is connected to, and a good cable and patching database indicates the room or even cabinet location of the device. However I wanted a more visual understanding of just where cabinet “CX1″ might be located on our campus, and particularly in our large data centre halls.

There are a few options, in terms of web-based, Linux-hosted, open source tools:

RackMonkey is a simple bit of Perl CGI with an easy to use web interface. It’s no longer actively maintained, but is hosted on sourceforge. Good features include easy installation, numbering U (position in the rack) from top or bottom, and supporting SQLite3 storage. Missing features include specifying front/back position or facing-direction of the device.

RackTables is, I think, PHP and MySQL and in addition to rack layout includes IP address and VLAN registries. These latter features we don’t need, and would be a distraction or confusion to my colleagues if I couldn’t disable them. What I do like is that devices can occupy front/mid/back zones in each rack unit. Sadly racks can’t be numbered from top or bottom, and we have a mix of both. Update: From version 0.20.4 RackTables will support numbering in either direction.

RackSmith is new and has some good ideas, such as being able to place the racks on a tiled floor plan in a room, in a building. There seems to be sufficient flexibility in how devices are placed in racks, but I notice several user interface bugs, which are understandable as RackSmith is still under development. Update: It seems public development of RackSmith is “on hold” and it’s being rewritten under a SaaS model.

Both RackTables and RackSmith have demos on-line. RackMonkey is really easy to install so there’s less need there, anyway.

At first my choice was going to be RackTables, because of its front/mid/back device positioning, and clear hierarchy of location/room/rack. Sadly because we can’t reverse the U numbering, it’s rejected. RackSmith would be lovely but just isn’t ready. So, I’ve installed RackMonkey and seeing as it’s only providing additional information to that in Netdisco and our cable database, it being lightweight and unmaintained is probably not an issue.

Update: So, RackTables it is! Its continuing development has leap-frogged the competition,

(p.s. given sufficient tuits, I’d rather take the network inventory tool I once worked on, and extend that to support these features, instead. I don’t like duplicating information between systems.)

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2 Responses to Simple Tools for Describing Rack Layouts

  1. Hrvoje says:

    Hi Oliver,
    Can u please look at noclayer and tell /write some opinion, i would very much appreciate it.

    • That looks a really nice piece of software – well done!

      I’m pleased you have a live demo on-line, it makes a big difference to potential customers, I think. I played around a bit in the demo and found it intuitive and full featured. Good luck with your business.