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ODIN Report Reveals EPC RFID's Effectiveness for Tracking IT Assets

The company scientifically tested seven EPC Gen 2 RFID tags suitable for IT asset tracking, and analyzed five use cases, including employing the technology to manage memory cards.
By Beth Bacheldor
Sep 25, 2008A new study from Dulles, Va., RFID systems integrator ODIN Technologies shows that passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and interrogators can be effective for tracking IT assets, but that no single RFID tag or interrogator model is appropriate for all use environments. The IT Asset Tracking Benchmark is the 12th installment of ODIN's RFID Benchmark series, which aims to independently evaluate RFID equipment performance.

To carry out its study, ODIN attached the tags to rack and blade servers, desktop and laptop computers, inkjet printers and other types of electronic devices. The study found that the proper passive RFID system could significantly streamline IT asset-management processes. For example, a rack of 40 servers could be inventoried in less than 30 seconds, while 19 electronic devices could be inventoried in an office cubicle five times faster using RFID than manual methods. The study also found that RFID could be employed to identify the memory cards installed in a server.

For some time, RFID has been used to track IT assets, from laptops to network routers. But companies have typically had to utilize active RFID because passive UHF tags did not perform well on IT assets containing metal, which can interfere with RF waves. For instance, Cognizant, a provider of IT, consulting and business process outsourcing services, had deployed a passive RFID system to track laptops, but the company found that the tags were not being reliably read because uncontrollable factors—such as metal objects being carried in bags along with the laptops—were causing RF interference with the tags. Therefore, it opted to switch to active tags from RF Code (see RF Code Announces Platform for Tracking IT Assets).

However, a growing number of metal-mount tags, specifically designed to mitigate metal's interference, have come on the market and are offering companies new options (see HP Launches Service That Applies Tags to Items It Ships and IBM Offering IT Asset-Tracking Solution). In its new study, ODIN evaluated seven metal-mount tags compliant with EPC Gen 2 from four vendors, to determine whether passive UHF is a now a viable technology for tracking IT assets.

"There's been a large increase of interest in IT asset tracking using passive technology. But no one had really done any testing, to explore what's possible and not possible with the technology," says Adam Bennett, a co-author of the benchmark study. "We've noticed, in the last year, a real increase in knowledge of RFID and IT asset tracking, and several different vendors—both IT hardware vendors and producers of RFID tags and integrators—have all been looking into this market." What's stimulated that interest, he says, is the increased selection of metal-mount tags. "People are starting to look at ways to use these tags."

The tags tested include Omni-ID's Prox and Flex tags, Confidex's Steelwave, Steelwave Micro and Halo, TROI's MMT-3004, and Sontec's C0101. ODIN selected the tags based on a number of factors, including physical dimensions, performance and commercial availability.

Multiple interrogators were employed during testing. The tests in the study set out to determine sensitivity (how a tag will respond if reader power is decreased); orientation sensitivity (which tags require a handheld reader to be at a particular angle); distance (the optimal range to read tags with a handheld reader); material dependency (which tags work on both metal and plastic equipment cases); and blade server inventory (which tags perform best when placed on blade servers).

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