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Large Entertainment Co. to Try RFID for Tracking Spare Parts in Its Data Centers

The company wants to use passive UHF tags to determine which items it has in storage and when they are removed or returned, in order to increase inventory visibility and reduce shrinkage.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 02, 2012While there are multiple RFID-based solutions currently on the market to enable data centers to track the locations or environmental conditions of servers, few solutions historically existed for managing parts and tools used on those machines. So when a national entertainment company began seeking a solution that would track spares at two of its West Coast data centers, the firm was unable to find such a system. Consequently, the company approached Vizualiiz, which offers an RFID server-tracking solution known as LightsOn. Together, they developed the LightsOn Spare Management system, which the entertainment company (which has asked to remain unnamed) is now in the process of implementing.

The LightsOn Spare Management system enables a user to apply either bar-coded labels or RFID tags to its spares, and to utilize a LightsOn software platform to determine which spares it has within its data centers, as well as when they are removed or returned. Initially, the entertainment company is attaching bar-coded labels to evaluate how frequently each spare part is moved. After analyzing the results over the next six months, the firm plans to attach passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to spare parts that are of high value and that move frequently, and to then use a handheld reader, as well as an undetermined number of fixed RFID portals, to track spares that leave a storage area or cage.

Bob Cartright, Vizualiiz's president
Most data centers have spare parts on hand, which can include hard drives, network adapters, power supplies, power cords and network cables. In some situations, the server manufacturer provides maintenance service to a data center, and thus manages its own spares used for that maintenance. Increasingly, however, data-center owners are managing the maintenance themselves, according to Bob Cartright, Vizualiiz's president. When a data center's own staff performs maintenance, the quantity of spare parts required onsite can be large, and multiple storage areas or cages are set aside to contain those spares. If parts end up missing, they must be reordered, or moved from another data center, which can delay maintenance.

The entertainment company had installed motion-sensitive cameras at its spare-parts storage rooms, in an attempt to determine who was removing items, as well as when this occurred, and thus reduce parts shrinkage. The system did not provide much information, however, since a video provided did not make it clear what was being taken, or if it was returned.

Vizualiiz has developed a solution based on its existing LightsOn system specific for spare-parts management. With the solution in place, items are tagged with UHF Gen 2 RFID tags (though the system can also work with bar-coded labels and that, in fact, is where the entertainment company chose to begin in determining which parts might most require an RFID tag).

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