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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
For inventory purposes, Comcast's staff can now push an RFID reader "mobile collection" cart through aisles in order to read tags. This device includes a laptop computer wired to an RFID reader with a built-in antenna that captures the tag numbers of installed equipment. The cart also has a built-in rechargeable battery, as well as a handheld reader antenna that can be used to verify the specific rack in which the asset tag is located. A user can roll the cart through aisles, walk past each rack and view the read data on the laptop screen, or sweep the handheld antenna across the front of each rack. The reader cart then transmits that data wirelessly to the back-end server, where Asset Vue software resides.

The system not only assists with audits and inventory checks, but also provides greater visibility into the number of servers located at a particular spot, areas in which there may be more space for additional servers to be located, and the amount that can stored there. This function helps data centers plan their own expansions, says Mike Brode, Asset Vue's executive director of sales, and spares them from building out more space for servers than necessary.

Installation at the Pennsylvania site began during the third quarter of 2011, and went live over the past few weeks. Though the system has only been in use for several weeks at that facility, Werner says he already sees benefits from the deployment, including improved inventory accuracy, a reduction in time required for employees to execute quarterly audits, and decreased staff travel and expenses. What's more, he says, it also serves to improve worker morale, by eliminating manual and tedious audits previously necessary to determine which servers are located in which areas. Learning how to operate the system, he adds, requires "very minimal training due to its simplicity and ease of use."

Given the time savings for audits, as well as the improved asset inventory accuracy, Werner expects that he will recoup the cost of the technology within 1.5 years.

According to Brode, the company is also rolling out the system at a Pennsylvania university, and is presently in discussions with several other potential customers as well, which may opt to use the system at their own data centers. In addition, he says, IT firms and other companies with data centers have indicated that due to their growth, and the need to manage power consumption, the value of an RFID system is growing. The technology can provide a view into the facility's exact inventory, he says, and indicate the amount of power being used, thus enabling the data center to better manage itself, and to ascertain how many servers need to be installed there.

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