IT asset tracking system combines RFID, infrared for rack-level identification

RF Code today announced a new system that uses a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID) and infrared technology to keep tabs on the location of individual IT assets, right down to the rack level.

RF Code today announced a new system that uses a combination of radio frequency identification (RFID) and infrared technology to keep tabs on the location of individual IT assets, right down to the rack level.

The goal is to give data center managers a fully automated way to track and manage IT assets, instead of relying on manual inventory methods such as barcode scanning, says Chris Gaskins, vice president of product development at RF Code.

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The combination of active RFID tags and infrared technology enables the system to work in data centers that have both open and closed server racks. In this scenario, the short range of infrared is an advantage. RF Code's asset tags read only transmissions sent by the closest infrared emitter, which eliminates the possibility of a tag reading an infrared signal emanating from an adjacent rack, the company says.

"Infrared only travels so far, it's pretty much line-of-sight," Gaskins says. "We don't put out a lot of power with our infrared strips, we put out just enough to cover the front of the rack."

Coupled with RF technology, it gets the job done. "We use a limiting technology like infrared to create a very precise zone, then we use RF transmission for the long-distance communication to readers installed in the ceilings of the data center," Gaskins says. "It's the combination of the two that's the magic sauce."

With RF Code's wireless gear in place, data center managers can see which servers and switches are on a particular rack and can tell when a device is moved. A move might be for a legitimate reason, such as for a repair or replacement, or it may indicate a theft has occurred, Gaskins notes.

"If you need to know where an IT asset is for replacement or repair, or to utilize it in another location, you don't have to go looking for it or send out an e-mail asking who has the server," Gaskins says. "We tell you where to find it and save a lot of man hours."

Manual inventory methods can be fraught with inaccuracies. "A lot of times when people do inventories, they can have up to a 20 per cent or 25 per cent variance in inventory. That means for 20 per cent or 25 per cent of what was inventoried last year, they have no clue where it's at," Gaskins says.

IT teams waste time chasing down lost or underutilized equipment and often wind up purchasing more hardware than is needed. When servers aren't properly decommissioned, companies spend money powering and cooling idle equipment, or paying for maintenance and licensing for equipment that's not being used.

RF Code's system consists of:

* A control box for each rack. The A740 control box emits a unique rack ID via infrared. It is smaller than a deck of cards, can be placed anywhere on or in the rack, and requires a power connection.

* Two adhesive infrared light strips, which attach to the control box and are installed vertically along the front of the rack frame. The light strips emit the infrared signal created by the A740 control box.

* Infrared-enabled asset tags that attach to individual servers. These asset tags receive the infrared signal from the A740 and capture the unique ID encoded in the infrared signal. They're active tags, so they broadcast their status every 10 seconds (as opposed to passive tags that are dormant until prompted by a reader).

* Active RFID readers, mounted on the ceiling. These readers receive rack-level identification data and device-level identification data from the infrared-enabled asset tags. Each RFID reader can cover between 2,000 and 5,000 square feet.

* RF Code software to read the stream of tag data containing the unique tag ID and corresponding rack-level infrared identifier. With this information, the software determines the rack location of each asset tag.

The system is designed for easy installation, Gaskins says. "You don't have to be wireless expert or an RFID expert," he says. "If you can install a server or a switch in a rack, you can install our system. [The A740 control box] doesn't need an IP address or connectivity, all it needs is power."

RF Code's systems can work alone or integrated with asset management platforms such as those from IBM, HP, Microsoft and Fluensee.

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