When I refer to my lab, I use the term loosely. It's a 10-by-10-foot working space whose smooth walls channel the sound from every device with a fan straight into my ears. I share that room with every server I use and test. Of these, an 8-core Xserve is the only box that stays on 24/7, and I wish I could say I've gotten used to the noise. I haven't. While the Xserve idles at a pleasant noise level, as soon as any computing load kicks in, the fans spin up. When they do, they find a frequency resonant with the part of my brain that tells me that if I value what's left of my hearing, it's time to leave the room. The necessity of working with rack servers that get louder with each generation has made noise the primary governor of my workflow.
Of rack servers, Xserve is relatively quiet. Apple's design favors ergonomics, but this Xserve is configured with 8GB of RAM. For contrast, consider the four-socket, 16-core, 32GB 1U Barcelona rack server that AMD recently shipped to me. At idle, that machine is as loud as Xserve is at full tilt. My 16-core Xeon rack server is no better. I honestly can't live with them. I was ready to stick them in my garage, sucking wind from a portable air conditioner. The combined racket would be intolerable.
There are three things that I set out to save: My ears and my power draw. To rescue my hearing, I shopped endlessly for noise reduction solutions, from sound-absorbing pads that stick to the wall to refrigerated racks that are, more or less, refrigerators. Sound-absorbing this and noise-scattering that, when they're pitched as solutions meant to work outside the rack enclosure, are glorified packing foam. The cost of cooled enterprise racks is so outrageously high that an employer would have to judge the expense greater than the value of one's hearing. Noise is not taken seriously as a workplace hazard for white-collar workers in the United States. Mark my words; it will be. But even those enclosures that seal for self-cooling are built for noncooled and outdoor environments, neither of which is my problem.