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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

The Social Security Administration looked into implementing a real-time location system (RTLS) employing active Wi-Fi-based RFID tags, but instead chose the Visi-Trac mobile solution with passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags. The system was first installed at the SSA's Woodlawn complex, in March of this year. Based on that deployment's success, the agency is now installing the same solution at the Durham location. The system consists of two Visi-Trac Mobile handheld readers and six Visi-Trac reader portals, one located at each doorway. To date, the SSA has fitted 13,000 IT assets with passive UHF hard-cased Confidex Steelwave Micro tags, with a read range of approximately 6 feet.

If staff members require specific assets, they can use the handheld readers in Geiger-counter mode to locate them among the data center's racks. If an update of all onsite inventory is required, they can walk through the racks and read each tag's unique ID number, which is linked to data identifying that asset and its history in the Visi-Trac software residing on the agency's server. The Visi-Trac system indicates any items that should have been located in the center and were not, thereby enabling employees to conduct a search for those assets.

If any items are removed or returned (typically for servicing), they are carried through the door and past an RFID reader, which also captures their tags' ID numbers and updates their status as having been taken either out of or into the center. The Visi-Trac system sounds an alert, flashes a light at the portal and sends an e-mail or text message to supervisors if an unauthorized transaction is underway, such as the removal of something that should not be moved.

Since the system's installation, Solem said, the SSA has noticed a 33 percent improvement in inventory accuracy. In addition, the Woodlawn center's inventory process now requires only a single worker two to three hours to complete. Based on the pay scale for staff members performing such inventory counts alone, he reported, the system provided a return on investment within approximately 13 months, solely in terms of labor costs.

According to Solem, the agency now often conducts weekly inventory counts "just for fun." If an item is identified as missing, staff members utilize a handheld reader as a Geiger counter, inputting the missing asset's ID and walking through the racks until reading the appropriate RFID number, at which time the handheld alerts the user that the item has been located.

The SSA expected the Woodlawn rollout to last for six months, Solem said, but finished one week early and within budget. In the future, he indicated, the agency intends to link staff badge data with the RFID system, in order to track which personnel remove or return particular assets. The badges, which comply with Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12), employ wireless technology for access control to data-center doors, he explained, and require that staff members enter a unique access code indicating who they are. Access-control software tracks these events; in the future, the SSA plans to incorporate that information into the Visi-Trac software, to link an individual's arrival with a specific asset's removal.

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