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Technician removing server from rack

Research opportunities

Modern data centers are typically made up of thousands of servers that are frequently assembled in clusters distributed all over the world.

Keeping track of these assets is an enormous task, and yet most IT managers still do it the traditional way: via a paper audit. It’s a semi-annual process that can take several employees up to two months to complete and, even then, the results are often riddled with errors.

Although some existing technologies can help expedite the IT audit process (such as scanners that read bar codes attached to each server), every commercially available asset-tracking solution still requires someone to physically locate each server as part of the audit.


Our approach

HP Labs aims to transform IT asset tracking by making it fully automated.

By retrofitting the racks that hold servers to make them 'smart,' we allow IT managers to remotely interrogate each rack about the equipment it is holding at any time.

Under such a system, complete IT audits can take seconds instead of months -- even when the assets reside in multiple, widely dispersed locations.

Research focus

HP Labs is creating a new generation of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to enable a smart server-tracking system.

Conventional RFID readers are not reliable if they are closely packed and in a metallic environment such as a rack. Therefore researchers are investigating how to confine the RFID reading area and get robust reads.

At the same time they are designing the new technology to be relatively inexpensive to produce.

Current work

Real-time data center asset tracking

RFID demonstration projects at HP Labs are proving the viability of the RFID IT asset tracking technology for multiple, dispersed sets of server racks.

RFID tags on each server are read by an antenna array running down each server rack door. Information about the precise slot placement of each server is relayed in real time to a database linked to standard IT management software.

This research suggests that because of its ability to track each server, smart IT asset tracking can allow IT managers to use data center space more efficiently, and to better manage power and cooling.

Another potential benefit is enhanced security, because the technology makes it possible to unlock a rack only to certain personnel at certain times, or when a particular asset is scheduled for removal.

Cable identification and tracking

A second HP Labs project applies RFID asset tracking to the cables connecting sets of servers.

A single rack of servers might have 2,000 identical optical cables running into and out of it; it can take two people three days to connect just 500 of them.

With RFID cable tracking in place, system managers have an accurate, real-time record of where every cable is placed -- making repairs and upgrades faster, more accurate, and easier to plan, manage and perform.

Significantly, both these solutions can be retrofitted to existing systems, and both can be employed while the system is running.

Future applications

Future applications may combine RFID tracking with wireless networks and video cameras to track assets that can move around in a warehouse or other large space.

Researchers are also interested in investigating cable-tracking solutions for non-optical cables, such as those made of copper.

Enterprise computing

» Data center automation
  » IT resource virtualization  
  » Data center power & cooling  
  » Storage infrastructure & management  
  » IT asset tracking  
  » Advanced architecture  

Learn more

»  HP Enterprise Discovery
»  HP AssetCenter
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