Many industries use RFID tool tracking in their data centres to secure, track and manage their IT assets, from healthcare to the laundry industry. Data centres are also the most conducive environment to deploy in RFID, given that the environmental controls protecting IT devices also protect the RFID tags. This eliminates many hazards that could cause the tags to fail, such as moisture, heat, impacts, chemicals, and severe vibration. Despite these favourable conditions, some constraints still make mounting tags on IT assets challenging. To optimise RFID systems in data centres, businesses must procure the tags that meet the following requirements.
1. Tag size
The size of the tag, or its footprint, is the biggest issue when tagging IT assets. Data centre assets typically come with wires, vents, and connections that take up most of their exterior and interior surfaces, making it difficult to find enough space to mount an RFID tag. These are the primary constraints businesses must work around:
Many IT assets typically only have enough room to fit thinner tags, limiting the selection of tags that fit the requirements and the RFID companies one can work with as not all offer ultra-thin tags. In addition, it is vital to ensure the profile does not interfere with how the devices are stored, used or mounted.
IT assets come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations, meaning it is likely necessary to have tags of various sizes to cover all devices in the data centre.
- Read range
The last consideration is the tag’s read range. Most data centres with an RFID system do not have long-range read requirements for their standard tracking processes. However, suppose RFID is to be used for security applications. In that case, the tags will need to be sufficiently long range to enable applications like entrance and exit portals where they can reliably read the tags upon passing through them.
2. Metallic interference
Metallic interference is a problem in areas with many metallic materials as they reflect and alter the radio waves critical to the communication between RFID tags and readers. With so many IT devices in one space, most if not all of which are made of metal, it may cause significant interference to the RFID system.
Another crucial consideration is the difference between the IT device out of the box and when it is in use. For instance, the device has an open, clean bezel perfect for mounting a tag. But when deployed, it may host dozens of connections into its front panel that could hide the tag from a reader, reducing the system’s reliability. Therefore, it is vital to consider devices in their ‘as deployed’ configuration before mounting the tags to ensure they are properly positioned for easy reading without affecting the devices’ mounting or usage.
3. Surface compatibility
RFID tags must be compatible with the surface they are mounted on to achieve reliable performance. This is important because certain materials like metal interfere with the radio waves used by RFID to communicate. For instance, when mounting on metal surfaces, it is required to use a multi-surface tag or a specific mount-on-metal attachment. Otherwise, using anything else may render the tag ineffective and will not be readable.
This issue is particularly prevalent in data centres as virtually all assets include metal surfaces in some way or another. The proximity of the surface to other nearby metals is also a concern that needs to be considered. Plastic surfaces near metals will perform like a mount-on-metal application. Another difficulty to keep in mind is that some devices often contain plastic materials with a metallic appearance, which causes two problems:
- First, one could mistake plastic for metal and waste a mount-on-metal tag; which cost more, that will not work properly.
- Second, despite identifying the material as plastic, it may have a metallic coating conducive enough to act like metal for RFID. As such, tags designed for plastic surfaces will not work, and mount-on-metal tags will be needed.
Due to the challenges outlined, one must be extra careful about choosing RFID tags in order to achieve the best performance for which it is applied.
4. Mounting method and cost
The final aspect to consider is the cost of the tags. Generally, a tag’s price is the top thing to consider, but this can be a wrong assumption. The labour costs of mounting tags often exceed the cost of purchasing the tags themselves. Choosing a suitable area and surface for tags, mounting them, and finally testing and commissioning them may consume a lot of time and resources. Hence, the best way to cut costs when deploying RFID tags is to pick those that are easiest to deploy. The net cost will likely be lower if a tag is a bit more expensive but can be far easier to deploy.
Data centre managers should also note that some IT equipment providers are aware of their customers using RFID for asset tracking and thus include RFID tags into their products. Cisco is one such major manufacturer that incorporates RFID into its products. These devices come ready to be added and deployed in RFID systems with no other requirements – out of the box deployment concept. The manufacturer has already taken care of the engineering that guarantees good RFID performance, has shouldered the cost of purchasing and mounting the tags. Due to this, buying RFID-enabled devices before implementing a full RFID system can lessen the inherent obstacles in such projects.
With RFID’s proven track record in tracking and managing assets, critical or otherwise, RFID can also bring numerous benefits to the data centre. However, to fully reap those benefits, businesses must properly choose the tags that provide reliable reads in this challenging environment to ensure complete and accurate data.