IT-Austria Taps RFID to Track Assets

By Rhea Wessel

The financial data center operator is using approximately 10,000 EPC Gen 2 tags to track server racks and other IT hardware at two of its data center sites.


IT-Austria, which operates large data centers for the Austrian financial sector and reported sales of €165 million in 2007, has implemented EPC RFID technology to track IT assets through their complete lifecycles, from purchase through installation, operation, maintenance and disposal. The project was completed at the end of 2008, at three separate data center sites in Vienna, and includes approximately 10,000 tagged components, such as server racks, IT hardware and other office equipment.

Technology solution provider Tricon and Rodi IT Consulting, an independent project consultancy, helped implement the system, which employs a variety of tags and tag housings designed to fit different types of IT assets, and able to be attached to metal, plastic or glass. All of the tags contain EPC Gen 2 RFID inlays from Alien Technology.

Heinz Windischbauer

Before IT-Austria adopted the RFID solution, inventory was taken sporadically, using handheld scanners to read bar codes attached to the assets—a time-consuming process. Since IT assets are the company’s second most costly outlay, behind salaries, IT-Austria decided to speed up and improve the efficiency of its IT asset-auditing and maintenance-tracking processes. The firm now performs an inventory of its IT assets every four to 12 weeks, says Heinz Windischbauer, a sales and project manager at Tricon, and uses the information it collects for inventory purposes, as well as for maintenance management.

Tricon implemented its Tricon Inventory Management (TIM) asset-inventory software, which provides an interface between IT-Austria’s existing asset-management database and the handheld RFID readers its workers use to take inventory. IT-Austria can check the RFID tag data in the database to make sure all assets are in the places they’re supposed to be. The RFID data is also used to update inventory status reports. Inventory status information helps the company’s bookkeepers monitor specific server and maintenance costs, and attribute those expenses to the proper customers.

When it’s time to conduct an asset inventory, an employee can access an inventory list (a list of assets that are supposed to be in a particular area or department) on a handheld RFID interrogator. The worker waves the reader by an RFID tag mounted near the door, in order to identify the room or area in which the inventory is being taken. The employee then reads the RFID tags on the assets in that room. Each time a tag is interrogated successfully, the system indicates this to the operator. Once all tags within a designated area are read, the operator transmits the data from the handheld device to the back-end asset-management database, via the wireless LAN connection.

IT-Austria can also use its RFID-enabled asset-management solution to generate such things as maintenance or service history reports for a specific customer’s servers.

Each data center has a Psion Teklogix Workabout Pro C handheld computer with an RFID interrogator module, as well as two Toshiba Tec RFID label printer-encoders—one used by the receiving department for tagging new hardware, the other by the IT department for tagging existing items.

The project launched at the end of 2007 but took some time to implement, since IT-Austria wanted to tag a majority of the assets itself, for security purposes. Once the system was implemented, IT-Austria and its project partners held a short training session explaining how to use the handhelds, as well as how to utilize the workstation for administrating data, print the RFID labels and generate reports.

According to Windischbauer, IT-Austria benefits from fast, error-free asset identification, a reduction of manual labor, faster auditing of inventory and the ability to optimize its asset-related capital by scheduling asset replacements and additional investments. The company, he says, is considering further projects, such as employing RFID to inventory its own desktop computers.

The use of RFID to help companies track IT assets continues to gain momentum. Technical developments have made it possible for companies to leverage industry-standard EPC Gen 2 passive ultra-high frequency (UHF) tags rather than active RFID tags, which are more expensive. Until recently, businesses were limited to active tags because passive UHF versions did not perform well on IT assets containing metal, which can interfere with RF waves. In mid-2008, RFID systems integrator ODIN Technologies conducted a study that showed passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags and interrogators can be effective for tracking IT assets (see ODIN Report Reveals EPC RFID’s Effectiveness for Tracking IT Assets).

What’s more, PC Guardian and other vendors are rolling out RFID-enabled suites designed to help companies track, monitor, manage and secure their servers and other IT assets around the clock, from cradle to grave (see PC Guardian Debuts RFID Suite for IT Asset Tracking).

Moreover, IT hardware manufacturers are beginning to tag their products. These firms can now be guided by RFID standards set forth by the Financial Services Technology Consortium (FSTC), a New York-based organization comprising North American financial institutions, technology vendors, research groups and government agencies. FSTC recently published a set of standards for implementing RFID-based systems to track IT assets within data centers (see Financial Consortium Publishes RFID Standards for IT Assets).