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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
"We've worked with many different types of RFID technology in our other benchmark studies and regular testing," Bennett says. "We already knew what some of the capabilities and limitations of the [passive UHF] technology were. We thought that passive RFID was ready for IT asset tracking, but until you test, you don't know for sure."

ODIN initiated the study in August, and spent more than a month testing tags in various use-case scenarios. The systems integrator then partnered with a company, which Bennett asked not to be identified, and conducted tests in that company's data center—a fairly large, secure facility housing more than 500 devices, including servers, routers and other IT equipment. ODIN attached the tags to rack servers, blade servers, RAM cards, desktop and laptop computers, inkjet printers, CRT and LCD monitors, IP phones, calculators and spectrum analyzers. It then tested whether RFID could be used to inventory many of these electronic devices spread throughout an office cubicle, as well as how RFID compared with manual inventory, and whether a stack of IT assets could be interrogated while passing through a doorway.

The idea to test the use of RFID for tracking individual sticks of RAM came from the partner company that had offered up its data center to conduct the testing, Bennett says. "They brought the idea to us," he notes, adding that by accurately tracking RAM, companies can know exactly which RAM cards are in which servers, whether those cards are older or newer, whether upgrades or maintenance is necessary, and other vital inventory-management data companies require to ensure servers have sufficient memory to support their business operations. By affixing RFID tags to individual RAM sticks, companies need not manually check them, Bennett says. "If you want to see what RAM is in which server," he explains, "it is kind of a pain because you have to pull each one out of the server, and then you run the risk of damaging them."

RAM cards measure only a few inches in size. ODIN had to use very small tags, Bennett says, and only two of the seven tag models tested fit the bill. One was 33 millimeters by 10 millimeters by 4 millimeters (1.3 inches by 0.4 inch by 0.2 inch), the other 38 millimeters by 13 millimeters by 3 millimeters (1.5 inches by 0.5 inch by 0.1 inch). The tags were affixed to the bottom side of the RAM sticks, in an area that is minimally visible when the server's cover is open.

The RAM sticks used during the test included Hynix's 2-gigabyte RAM card with a heat sink, and Super Talent's 1-gigabyte RAM card, which has no heat sink. (Heat sinks, which are metal, absorb and dissipate heat from a RAM card.) The tested RAM cards also contain a removable, protective plastic covering.

"We needed to check the RFID tags' performance, to see if you could pull a signal off these tags," Bennett says. "And we didn't quite know, going into this." Since some metal-mount tags must be attached to a significant amount of metal in order to operate, not all will function with RAM cards that lack heat sinks. What's more, because metal-mount tags are sensitive to their orientation in relation to interrogators, the tags ideally need to be tested in multiple positions to determine the optimal placement. But because there was only one location where the tags could be affixed on the RAM sticks, multiple placement options were not feasible.

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