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RF Code Debuts Inexpensive Server-Tracking Solution

The company's solution combines infrared beacons and active RFID tags, enabling data centers to track the locations and conditions of their servers using a single RFID reader.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 08, 2010A new solution combining infrared (IR) beacons and active RFID tags promises to provide data centers with a tracking system enabling them to determine the locations (and, in some cases, the conditions) of their IT assets at a fraction of the cost of existing active RFID solutions, according to solutions developer RF Code. The system, the company reports, is currently being beta-tested by two unnamed computer firms that represent two of the largest server manufacturers worldwide—both located in Austin, Texas.

The system, made available today, uses hybrid technology similar to what RF Code already provides to GE Healthcare—which, according to Mitch Medford, the company's CEO, has made RF Code a substantial supplier of real-time location systems (RTLS) involving active RFID tags to the health-care industry. In this case, the solution employs the same technology found in the health-care solution, making it cheaper and easier for data centers to track their assets' locations and environmental status. It does this by means of active RFID tags to identify each individual server, and IR beacons to identify the specific rack in which a particular server has been installed.

An infrared lens is located on the underside of the R104 tag (shown here), as well as on the R114 tag.
In 2008, RF Code began providing an RFID-only solution for data centers (see RF Code Announces Platform for Tracking IT Assets). The market has been changing, however, with more servers being stored in open racks (instead of enclosed cabinets), and RF Code sought to develop a system that addressed several shortcomings of the previous system. That prior system called for an RFID reader to be installed on every rack, receiving data from an RF Code 433 MHz active RFID tag attached to each server, and transmitting that information to RF Code's Zone Manager middleware, which then interpreted the server's location in real time.

The system worked, says Chris Gaskins, the company's VP of product development, but it was expensive for users to purchase a separate $600 reader for every rack. Moreover, each reader required the space of one server, thereby reducing the number of servers per rack that a data center could store. In addition, in an effort to reduce power consumption, most data centers are now shifting to open racks, which allow cooled air to circulate across the servers more efficiently. With open racks, however, the RFID readers would receive transmissions from tags on neighboring racks, making location data less accurate. "We realized we had to go do something else," Gaskins says.

The resulting patented solution combines radio frequency identification to identify each individual server, and infrared beacons to inform an RFID tag of its location. As a result, an installation could be accomplished with just one or two readers in the entire center, as well as a much smaller and less expensive IR beacon attached to each rack, and the system could be installed by the data center's management itself.

The A740 controller powers a pair of infrared light strips that attach to a rack's perimeter.

With the new solution, every server in each rack is fitted with an adhesive-backed RF Code asset tag—either the R104 or R114 model, depending on mounting requirements. Infrared beacons known as A740 control boxes are mounted inside each rack, and two 90-inch-long IR light strips with adhesives backs are attached to the left and right sides of the rack, extending from top to bottom. The strips plug directly into the control box. Via the light strips, the A740 transmits an IR signal, encoded with a unique ID number, and the tags in that rack receive the IR signal emitted by the surrounding light strips.

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