RFID could ease hunt for lost IT gear

Emerging RFID tools promise to help IT execs keep track of equipment in ever-expanding corporate data centers.

If concerns about cost and security can be overcome, RFID technology could help solve a growing problem in large data centers: losing track of IT equipment.

Experts note that IT executives at companies with large data centers have long grappled with the problem of misplaced equipment, particularly "ghost servers" that draw power but don't do any work. The problem can be costly, because electricity is wasted and in some cases companies must continue to make lease and maintenance payments on the "lost" systems.

Eric Moore, enterprise data center manager at a regional hospital in Illinois, said that placing RFID tags on IT equipment could make it easier to keep track of machines moved into or out of the data center. Traditional inventories of IT assets, which are generated by staffers who walk from server to server carrying bar code scanners and clipboards, have limited shelf lives because a data center's equipment is constantly changing, he added.

Nonetheless, it would be difficult to justify the expected cost of moving to RFID, said Moore.

Vendors are increasingly mounting efforts to convince users like Moore that RFID technology can be cost-effective because it automates inventory-tracking tasks.

Just last week, at Afcom's Data Center World conference in Las Vegas, two vendors released RFID tools designed to track IT equipment.

Methode Data Solution Group introduced a system called U-Track that has passive RFID tags that can be placed on each server in a rack. The tags are activated by a signal from an RFID reader. Pricing for U-Track ranges from $200 to $400 per server rack.

Meanwhile, RF Code Inc. unveiled a system that uses active RFID technology and tracks server locations by sending out a beacon to a reader. Each tag costs about $14.

"I would love to use RFID, but it's not in the budget," said Scott Nahman, a data center manager with a federal government agency he asked not be identified. Nahman said his shop uses bar code scanners to track equipment. If anything isn't in its place, staffers "don't go home from work until it's found," he added.

Security concerns are preventing companies such as MSR Engineering and Development Ltd. from using RFID technology. MSR senior project manager Rosner Mehahem said some of the Israeli company's public sector customers don't like active RFID tags because they believe the transmissions can be retrieved outside the data center.

This version of this article was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from a story that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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