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Visual Data Center Combines RFID With 3-D Thermal Imaging

Optimum Path Systems' data center management software is being packaged with RF Code's active RFID tags and readers.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 15, 2010This week, data center management software firm Optimum Path Systems began providing a new RFID-based functionality—wireless temperature and humidity monitoring—to its Visual Data Center (VDC) software for monitoring and managing data centers. The company's new offering is the result of a partnership with RFID hardware company RF Code to package the centralized data center monitoring software with RF Code's 433 MHz RFID readers and active tags (which employ a proprietary air-interface protocol), as well as its Zone Manager software to feed data to VDC's thermal-imaging component.

VDC has been available since 2009, says Optimum Path Systems' COO, Steven Webel, to help data centers manage information related to the servers and other IT equipment stored at that site. That includes power consumption, equipment performance, warrantee status and maintenance schedules.

RF Code RFID tags are attached to server racks
Data centers typically consist of hundreds or thousands of servers and routers, as well as cooling equipment and telecommunications gear. The equipment is not only sensitive to heat, but also generates large amounts of heat itself, so cooling is essential. Often, in fact, data centers are cooled excessively in an effort to ensure the best environment for all equipment contained within. Optimum Path Systems reports that its VDC software system can address this problem by taking data related to the temperature or humidity in various locations within a facility, and providing that information to a user for alerting purposes, as well as for tracking environmental conditions, identifying trouble areas and determining any spots in which the temperature may be cooler than it needs to be. In this way, Webel says, the center can improve its own efficiency and reduce power consumption.

The VDC system provides three-dimensional visibility into the conditions of data centers. VDC had this environmental-monitoring capability even prior to the incorporation of RF Code's RFID technology, using data from wired or other existing temperature-monitoring solutions that some data centers already have in place. "Temperature tracking has always been a component of VDC," he explains.

When Optimum Path Systems presented the environmental-monitoring functionality to facility managers, Webel says, they often expressed interest in that feature, but lacked the necessary hardware to track environmental conditions. "That's one area data centers tend to be lacking in—tracking temperature and humidity," says Shawn Griggs, VDC's director of sales. Installing wired temperature-tracking sensors can be expensive and time-consuming, he notes, and can only be installed where wiring can be run, making it less flexible than an RFID-based system. Approximately four months ago, VDC's management met RF Code's staff at a trade show, and the two companies formed a partnership. This week, VDC has opened discussions with its current customers about deploying the RFID hardware with the VDC package, though no systems have yet been installed. The firm also plans to offer the RFID sensors to future customers.

Using temperature data obtained from the RFID tags, the VDC software displays a map with 3-D color-coded thermal imaging.

Installers will identify the location at which each tag will be mounted (such as rack 12, top, center), then input that location data into the Zone Manager software, which receives, interprets and stores information from the RFID reader, along with the tag's unique ID number. The tag is then affixed to the server rack with a wire or adhesive. Once attached, the tag does not move from that location.

When the tag transmits its RF signal at a preconfigured rate, such as several times each minute, the reader captures that tag's ID number, along with that particular location's temperature and humidity (assuming the tag contains a humidity sensor). The interrogator transmits that information via a cabled connection to the back-end server, where Zone Manager identifies the location, links it to the sensor data and makes it available to the VDC software. VDC then displays that information on a map of the center, with color-coded indications of the temperatures around the site, including 3-D thermal imaging—such as blue for cool air, or yellow or red for higher temperatures.

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