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RF Code, Raritan Launch System for Monitoring Server Power Consumption

The solution combines Raritan's power distribution units (PDUs) and RF Code's RFID sensor tags and readers, reducing the need for an Ethernet cable to forward energy-usage and environmental data to a company's back-end system.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 28, 2010RFID technology firm RF Code and power distribution unit (PDU) provider Raritan have developed a solution that combines Raritan's power distribution units and RF Code's RFID sensor tags and readers. The technology is a marriage of two previously disparate systems: Raritan's solution for measuring server power consumption, and RF Code's system for monitoring the temperature and humidity in the vicinity of those servers. The hybrid solution uses the RFID tags instead of an Ethernet cable to forward energy-usage and environmental data to a company's back-end system, thereby reducing the need for an Ethernet cable and the associated cost of installing and then maintaining that cable. The system employs RF Code's R170 PDU RFID sensor tag, developed specifically for this new solution, as well as Raritan's PX-1000 series of PDUs. The hybrid solution became commercially available this week.

Raritan's PDUs are designed to not only provide power to servers in data centers, but also to measure the consumption of power going to an individual server or group of servers, and then forward that information to a back-end server. Raritan's PX-1000 PDUs measure only inline power—that is, the power consumed by all servers to which a particular PDU is connected. The company's PX-5000 series, on the other hand, can receive instructions via the Ethernet cable, enabling users to switch off any server receiving power from that unit. In the case of the new hybrid RFID product, says Herman Chan, the director of Raritan's power-management business, the PDUs are versions of PX-1000 models that have been specially modified via its firmware to support communication by RFID instead of through an Ethernet cable.

Raritan's Herman Chan
In the past, Raritan has depended on Ethernet cabling to connect a PDU to a back-end system. This, however, can be expensive, says Chris Gaskins, RF Code's VP of product development. The cost per Ethernet port can be $300, he explains, which includes the Ethernet cable, a patch panel and an Ethernet switch, as well as installation labor; hundreds of ports are often installed in a typical data center. To add sensors to an existing wired Raritan PDU, the cost would start at $60 per sensor.

With the new hybrid solution, an RF Code tag is plugged (via an RJ12 connector) into a PX-1000 PDU supplying power to servers installed in a rack. When the PX-1000 measures current and/or kilowatts per hour being consumed by all of the servers, it sends that information to the 433 MHz active RFID tag. The tag then forwards that energy-consumption data every 10 minutes, along with its own temperature and humidity sensor data, to an RFID reader known as an RF Code Zone Manager, located at a central point in the data center (typically, one or two readers are sufficient to cover an entire data center, since each interrogator can cover from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet). The reader then transmits that information to the data center's server via an Ethernet connection.

Many data centers currently in operation employ what are known as "standard" or "basic" PDUs, which function as dumb power strips and do not measure energy consumption. (Raritan does not sell these sorts of PDUs.) What makes the Raritan-RF Code solution attractive for many basic PDU users, Chan notes, is the opportunity to upgrade to a metered solution without the need for an Ethernet cable connecting the PDU with the back-end system. He predicts that a large majority of those currently utilizing standard PDUs will transition to a metered solution to track power consumption, and find ways to reduce their carbon footprint and increase efficiency.

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