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T-Systems, Intel Test RFID to Track Servers at Model Data Center

At their jointly operated DataCenter 2020, the companies have installed passive EPC UHF tags on servers, as well as readers on racks and doorways.

By Rhea Wessel

Feb. 1, 2012—Germany-based systems integrator T-Systems and Intel, the U.S.-based manufacturer of computer processors and other technology, are evaluating the results of an implementation of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC RFID passive tags to track IT assets at a model data center located in Munich. The two companies are currently considering whether to roll out the technology at other data centers as well.

The application employs information collected via radio frequency identification to locate hardware components, particularly servers installed in racks. An RFID pilot was carried out in 2010 and 2011 at DataCenter 2020, the test-bed data center run by T-Systems and Intel. Integration of the RFID-based data into the Aperture data-center management software used by T-Systems is ongoing, the firms report, and is expected to be completed in mid-2012. Once the integration is finished, T-Systems will be able to use the data collected via RFID in Aperture's workflow and procurement applications.

DataCenter 2020, designed to test methods for conserving energy, is used as a showcase for customers, and as a place to test various hardware configurations. "Because of the test configurations for customers, we have to know which equipment is installed in which rack, and in which room," says T-Systems' Manuel Mair, who serves as the data center's project manager. "Now, with RFID, we do it automatically instead of with an Excel sheet."

With RFID-tagged servers and racks, data-center operators can now perform quick inventories, including those necessary for financial controlling. What's more, they can easily locate hardware requiring repair, and can be alerted in the event that an employee tries to install a server in the wrong rack.

At present, some 150 servers in eight racks are tracked via Omni-ID Prox Label UHF RFID tags compliant with the EPC Gen 2 standard. A tag is attached to each server, with the tagging taking place onsite when new equipment is slated to be added to the room. (The data-center operators could imagine later relying on tags placed on servers by the hardware manufacturer.) The equipment is then identified at the rack-room entrance, using a customized portal reader made by Deister Electronic. The portal includes an infrared motion detector, so that identified hardware can be registered as entering or exiting the room.
At present, personnel utilize printed work orders to receive information regarding where servers are to be installed. The data-center operators may later consider employing handheld interrogators that display electronic work orders.

A server moved into the room is identified again when placed in an empty slot (a space or shelf accommodating a single server) its assigned rack. That reading takes place via a four-port Sick RFI641 UHF RFID reader and a single antenna installed on the rack, says Dieter Kilian, the CEO of Cavea Identification GmbH, a German firm specializing in RFID solutions for metal environments, and the integrator for DataCenter 2020's server-tracking project.

Each of the reader's ports is wired to a Cavea rack antenna, in each of four separate racks. Every rack door is equipped with a door-contact switch that triggers the interrogator to conduct an inventory of that rack each time the door opens or closes. Eight racks are RFID-enabled, housing a total of 150 servers.

Each slot in a rack could also be fitted with a UPM RFID Trap tag encoded with a sequential position identifier (SPI). According to Kilian, the Trap tag, measuring 40 millimeters by 9 millimeters (1.6 inches by 0.4 inch), ideally fits on the mounting rail.

"For the pilot, T-Systems wanted only the rack inventory, without localization of each slot in the rack," Kilian states. "The main focus was to see the functionality and reliability of the technology, since nobody had done this before, nor did they believe that it would work at all."

Still, Kilian notes, his tests show that when a server is placed in a rack slot, it blocks that slot's tag from being read, thereby enabling the system to know that the slot is occupied.
"The idea is very simple: When an item is placed in the proper position, the tag is deactivated," Kilian explains. The concept, he says, can be implemented in a wide variety of metallic environments in which items have a fixed placement position.

Cavea Identification brought a similar application to market in August 2011, known as an Intelligent IT Server Rack. According to Kilian, the solution can easily be retrofitted onto existing racks and servers. Some hardware components of Cavea's newly launched product are different from those used at DataCenter 2020, he notes. For instance, for future rollouts, the Intelligent IT Server Rack system features Confidex SteelWave Micro tags—on-metal tags typically used for IT assets. Readers for the racks will be manufactured by RF-Embedded or Sirit.

The tagging of servers allows data-center managers to track the hardware throughout its lifecycle, Kilian reports. Other benefits, he says, include a more efficient use of resources—such as facilitating a switch to more efficient hardware when it becomes available, as well as deactivating less efficient hardware—faster and more accurate inventories and automated security routines. The RFID system can also be outfitted with sensors, to monitor humidity, temperature and other variables.

The RFID implementation fits with DataCenter 2020's overall goal, Mair says, since it conserves human energy. He also sees the detailed location information as helpful for planning future data centers in ways that save space and energy.

According to Kilian, Cavea's solution is the only one to offer short-range identification of slots, long-range identification of an object at the door and bulk identification of components. Cavea Identification has developed a special antenna for the rack, he says, as well as a metal casing that surrounds an RFID inlay and functions as a tag antenna
Pub Time : 2012-02-02 11:34:00 >> News list
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