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Social Security Administration Tracks Data-Center Assets

The agency is using RFID Global Solution's Visi-Trac system to know what has been removed from its server racks, as well as conduct inventory checks of 13,000 items within a matter of hours.
By Claire Swedberg
May 09, 2013

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has reduced the amount of labor required for tracking inventory at one of its data centers by 90 percent, by employing radio frequency identification to manage equipment. Quinn Solem, an SSA IT project manager, presented the details of the solution at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 conference and exhibition, held last week in Orlando, Fla.

The SSA launched an IT-management initiative in September 2012, at one of its two national data centers, with the goal of automating inventory and audit processes for IT assets. The agency sought to reduce inventory cycle times, improve inventory accuracy and enhance security.

The SSA's Quinn Solem

To accomplish this goal, the SSA deployed RFID Global Solution's Visi-Trac Asset Manager real-time visibility platform, using passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags on assets, as well as handheld readers and fixed portals, to support the agency's IT asset-management efforts at its national data center in Woodlawn, Md. The SSA's data center in Raleigh-Durham, N.C, is scheduled to take the same solution live next month.

The SSA operates its two national data centers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each site spans approximately 100,000 square feet and houses 15,000 IT assets (primarily servers and computer monitors) used to manage about 178 million secure Internet-based transactions daily.

The assets represent a huge inventory-management challenge, Solem reported. Equipment, such as servers and monitors, is often moved to one data center or the other. In some cases, the items are taken out of service for repair or maintenance, and are then returned. Accountability for each item, he said, is thus critical. Not only is the equipment expensive—the SSA spends a quarter of million dollars each year purchasing additional items—but security is crucial. There have been no security breaches to date, he reported, and the SSA intends to keep it that way. Knowing that no server has left the facility in unauthorized hands is one way to ensure that security.

In the past, the SSA assigned a staff of three people, working three separate shifts, for a total of one or two weeks each month, to catalog the assets. The workers opened each rack and scanned the bar-coded label on every piece of equipment.

RFID technology, the SSA determined, could automate that process. In addition, the agency sought a better method of ensuring that nothing ever ended up missing, and that mistakes were not made. "We had great processes, but couldn't prove they were being followed," he stated, since items still ended up missing from inventory lists. Since there are multiple shifts at the data centers, it is difficult to know which shift was actually responsible for moving a particular asset and thereby causing a discrepancy.

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