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RF Code Tracks to the Rack

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Jan 29, 2008


In technology time RFID has been on the scene a while. Despite it being an established concept, RFID, especially active RFID, has yet to find a solid profitable niche.

Tired of inventorying your servers every quarter? RF Code introduced a set-it and forget-it solution that keeps tabs on server room assets in real time.

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Real-time asset management solution provider RF Code, is hoping to change this. On Tuesday, the company unveiled an offering designed to, "truly eliminate human intervention in the tracking process, down to the rack level," CEO Mitch Medford told ServerWatch.

Asset management has long been a bug-bear for many IT professionals. Manually scanning servers, racks and other data center equipment is a time-consuming and repetitive task, with information often becoming outdated upon capture. In addition to the expense that accompanies taking inventory, there is also the expense of needing to purchase equipment because it cannot be found at the end of a lease or equipment that cannot be found when it's time for servicing for which an enterprise has already paid, Medford said.

Active RFID is RF Code's solution to this problem. Unlike the more commonly known passive RFID, which retailers have been experimenting with in recent years, active RFID allows for a wider range of tracking as well as two-way communication through what Medford refers to as the "mini computers" present on the items being tracked.

RF Code's journey to the data center was not a direct one. The first wave of its products were designed to streamline IT inventorying throughout the enterprise.

Tags designed to live the life of the asset (five to seven years) were placed on equipment; readers capable of reading the tags up to 14,000 feet were then placed throughout the enterprise. Hardware is inventoried constantly and in real time, Medford said. Although the solution took stock of IT assets, it was not suitable for the data center, where knowing the location of an asset sometimes needs to be as specific as the rack.

So RF Code modified the technology for use in the data center. The company developed a Bluetooth-enabled, rack-mountable reader that sits in a rack in the data center. Rack-constrained enterprises can mount the reader atop of the rack if space is an issue.

Medford noted that the electricity consumption of the reader is in line with that of a hub.

The next challenge was the tagging. Unlike IT assets spread out around the enterprise, data center assets are in close proximity. An RFID-attached chip had to be small enough to not impact the footprint and be clear enough to pinpoint the server's exact location.

The solution?

The R-Series tag, a paper-thin chip affixed to the equipment with a 3M adhesive. Medford said it sticks to the top of a rack or tower server or the side of a blade server. The tag is designed to be thrown away with server, and its useful life is estimated to be slightly longer.

Data center managers concerned with aesthetics can fold tag down with no ill effects, he said.

Even more importantly, admins have the option of leaving the rack door open, or taking it off, with minimal bleed-over. The Rack Zone Manger software, which ultimately keeps track of where everything is, can determine with 96 percent accuracy (with the 4 percent error within 3 racks) where the server server is, Medford said.

Rack Zone Manger is backward-compatible, upgradeable software that can insulate changes on reader side, Medford said.

It provides the communication that gives value to the technology can "track the asset from the time it hits the load dock to the time it goes out to the landfill," Medford said, emphasizing that the software is middleware that just looks at the physical location of the hardware; it is not monitoring heartbeat or anything related to the server's behavior.

Time-wise, Medford estimates tagging and installing the readers and software is akin to one inventory with scanners and bar codes, "a little worse than one manual audit." Medford said, however, that most of RF Code's customers have deployed the solution in zones, turning a little more of their assets over to RF Code for real-time inventorying each time they take stock of assets.

Thus, for those considering the technology, RF Code's new pilot program of four racks for free, fits with with a typical rollout.

One enterprise that has noticed RF Code's offering is Cognizant, which was also one of its first beta customers. The vendor, which streams customized back-office apps to into its own customers (often large companies), will deploy RF Code's technology in its own data center. It also agreed to introduce the technology into accounts and hardware and software sales through its partners. Should a customer opt for RF Code's offering, Cognizant will handle the servicing.

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