IT Asset Tracking with RFID is not Rocket Science

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Nov 24, 2010 @ 12:19 PM

NASA Ditches Paper & Pen in Favor of RFID to Locate Valuable Equipment

Data CenterThe accurate and timely tracking of assets like laptops, mobile devices and desktop PC equipment is a vital component of any profitable IT strategy.  For many large global companies, tracking servers and server rack components distributed throughout data centers and across the world is equally important.  Counting and tracking IT equipment has historically been done manually - which can be labor intensive, time consuming and prone to human error.  These manual processes also provide a single snapshot in time and often need to be repeated frequently in order to provide a useful picture of inventory and its operating status.

RFID is quickly becoming the answer for many companies looking to automate IT asset tracking in data centers and enterprise office locations – delivering a new level of efficiency and addressing many of the challenges found with the manual processes mentioned above.  And, though the thought of tracking hundreds of pieces of mobile equipment or thousands of server components might be too daunting of a task, deploying an RFID IT asset tracking system is not rocket science.

NASA Takes One Giant Leap Forward

Famous for leading the United States’ space exploration efforts, NASA recently announced its installation of an RFID system to track thousands of pieces of equipment at its Langley Research Center.  Covering a combined 30,000 square feet of data center, office and lab space, the RFID system deployed by NASA is used to track 1,500 servers and other computing devices, along with another 1,500 pieces equipment used by scientists both inside and outside of NASA labs.

To inventory its lab and data center equipment, NASA uses a handheld RFID reader and a combination of room-level tags, to provide information about what should be in the room, and item-level tags to identify specific devices.  Discrepancy alerts are reported to the handheld user and are presumably addressed in real time.  According to NASA, RFID has replaced both their use of paper and pen to track equipment serial numbers and the manual process used to check-out and return lab equipment.  The result?  How about reducing the time required for their inventory counts from three weeks to a single day.

Shoot for the Moon

While significant time savings have been realized by NASA related to their datacenter inventory processes, can RFID be deployed in such a way to deliver a true real-time inventory view and further reduce the need for personnel to access each server rack to read tags attached to individual component?

For these installations, integrating a fixed RFID reader directly into the rack may provide a significant advantage.  Tags designed for on-metal reading have come a long way, as have antenna configurations and the performance of UHF RFID readers in this challenging environment.  While NASA may not have requirements for this type of solution, I expect those who operate large server farms do.  With more high-bandwidth applications, like video, being used by consumers, datacenter growth is predicted to expand.  With this expansion, comes the need for innovative solutions – like in-rack RFID - to continue to advance operational efficiency.

Let us know what your drivers are for automating your IT asset tracking and management processes.  Does better managing a 24x7 datacenter operation lead the way?  How about the need to address loss or theft, reducing over purchases, product cannibalization (resulting in warranty issues), or government or legal compliance? 

[Photo credit 1&1]

Tags: RFID, IT Asset Tracking, NASA

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