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Bank of America Deploys RFID in Data Centers

The financial institution is using EPC Gen 2 tags to inventory its computer servers and other IT assets, and to record whenever any are removed from and returned to a data center, so that all equipment can be accounted for.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Conroy knew he wanted passive tags, rather than the more expensive active (battery-powered) technology, for the Bank of America deployment, and also knew he preferred a standards-based solution that would operate well in the metal-rich environment of a data center. In addition, he wanted to employ mobile RFID interrogators that employees could use to count inventory, instead of installing a series of fixed-position readers around each server rack and throughout the data centers. This latter solution, he says, would be cost-prohibitive.

Rather than conduct a typical, months-long proof of concept of the technology, Conroy chose an RFID vendor and struck a deal. "I did a contractual arrangement," he explains. "I told vendors, 'Come in [and deploy an RFID system at a data center], and if you can prove you can make it work, I'll pay for it.' That way, the risk for us was very low, and they had some skin in the game. I wanted to balance the risk. [The vendors] wanted access to a real data center in order to [install their tags and readers] in an environment that they usually don't have access to."

Conroy declines to disclose the name of the vendor the company chose, but says the tags are built into a form factor customized for use on IT assets—it provides a buffer, he explains, that prevents the assets' metal frames from interfering with RF signals. He also confirms that the hardware is EPC Gen 2-compliant.

The mobile interrogators are mounted on carts that employees wheel up and down rows of server racks and other assets within the data centers, in order to read the tags attached to assets. And portal readers, mounted around the doorways leading into and out of the facilities, collect the IDs of tags attached to servers and other tagged assets as they are removed from and returned to a data center, so that all assets can be accounted for.

Internally, Bank of America identified three main business areas where it will benefit from automating the tracking of its IT assets: operational efficiency, risk mitigation and regulatory compliance. Within the data centers that have deployed the RFID system, Conroy says, employees are already enjoying significant time savings when conducting periodic inventory. To inventory a row of servers at a data center, he explains, workers previously used handheld bar-code readers to scan each server's bar-coded label. Now, using a mobile reader mounted on a cart, they can walk down a row and collect the inventory in just 10 seconds.

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