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Comcast Puts RFID in Data Centers to Track Assets

The solution, provided by Asset Vue, using hardware made by RCD Technology and Element ID, enables Comcast's staff to conduct audits using RFID readers in mere hours rather than days, and to view the locations of servers on its database.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 17, 2012Media, entertainment and communications company Comcast Corp. has begun employing radio frequency identification this month to manage nearly 6,000 IT assets at a 20,000-square-foot data center, with installations currently underway at two additional data centers, located in Colorado and Illinois, expected to be completed this year. The solution, provided by Asset Vue, a supplier of asset and data-center management solutions, utilizes passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags from RCD Technology, an Element ID MAS2 mobile reader on a cart, and Asset Vue software to manage location data regarding all IT assets within the center, as well as provide alerts to those conducting inventories, thereby indicating when a server is not at its expected location.

The founders of Asset Vue—which was launched in 2010—had been providing data-center management solutions for 20 years. But only recently did they determine that the cost of RFID tags had dropped to the point that an RFID solution would be affordable for data-center applications. The company brought its solution to Comcast in order to suggest a proof-of-concept, says Sean Cotter, Asset Vue's president. Based on the information provided and a demonstration of the technology, Comcast opted to skip any further proof-of-concept testing, and to instead install the full system at its Pennsylvania location, tagging approximately 6,000 assets.

Asset Vue's Mike Brode
Asset-management accuracy is of high value at Comcast, explains Richard Werner, Comcast Cable's executive director of data-center management, but manual audits of the servers within the data center (conducted quarterly) could take weeks to complete. To accomplish that task, employees would have to open every data cabinet (or rack) and use a magnifying glass and a flashlight to read each serial number, make and model, and then manually record that information, along with each asset's location, on paper. The RFID solution enables workers to simply read the tags, and the read data is forwarded to Asset Vue software, in which the tag ID is linked to details about each asset. That information is then fed to the facility's existing data-center infrastructure management (DCIM) software.

The system employs RCD Technology's Sentry-AST Multi Surface passive tag, which measures 36 millimeters by 10 millimeters (1.4 inches by 0.4 inch) in length and width, and 5.6 millimeters (0.2 inch) in thickness, with 96 bits of Electric Product Code (EPC) memory and 512 bits of user memory. As the name implies, the Sentry-AST Multi Surface tag is rugged and designed to work on a variety of surfaces, whether metal or non-metal. One tag is affixed to a rack or cabinet, and is married in the software to the other tags attached to as many as 40 servers or other assets assigned to that particular cabinet or rack. Asset Vue software then provides the data center's staff or auditors with a visual representation of the rack that identifies when assets are either present or missing. The software also allows for two-person validation of every new asset in the system: One engineer installs the equipment on a rack and inputs it into the Asset Vue database, but a second engineer must verify that the information was entered correctly, thereby greatly reducing the chances of human error.

Because the tagging process can be time-consuming, Asset Vue and RCD Technology opted to provide tags already assigned to a specific rack or server. Comcast's data-center management solution provided RCD with a list of racks and servers or other IT assets located on each rack. RCD Technology then temporarily attached the adhesive tags to 8.5-by-11-inch sheets of paper, says Phil Koppenhofer, RCD's VP of sales, with each sheet of paper representing a single rack. Therefore, one tag on the top of the sheet was designated for a specific rack, while each remaining tag was printed and encoded for a particular server. In that way, staff members had only to go to a rack, attach a tag and then affix the remaining tags to servers and other assets on that rack (with printed information to identify that server on the front of the tag). This process, the company reports, made the tagging of assets much faster than when using a method of inputting tag IDs and asset details into the system as each tag was applied.

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