How to choose the right asset tagging solution

Generally, the idea of adding a tag or label to an item is to assist with identification. The most commonly used example of this is the standard UPC barcode which is present on virtually every commercially sold product. When this barcode is scanned, details such as the cost and a description of the item can be retrieved from a database, identifying the distinct product from all others.

Whilst the unique tag on an item may never change, the information stored against it within a database could. For example if the product goes on sale or promotion the price may change but the barcode would remain the same. This system is simple and effective, but without a database combined with the unique number, it’s nothing more than a string of digits stored as a 1D barcode.

1D & 2D Barcode

Another form of barcode is the 2D format. These are commonly found on technology items such as mobile phones and are a mosaic of squares much like a jumbled chessboard. The advantage of 2D over 1D is that the barcode can be much smaller in size yet with a higher data capacity. There are different formats of 1D barcodes, however each typically contain less than 50 characters, 2D barcodes could contain in excess of 200. The two main standards for 2D are QR codes, which have seen some success in marketing and advertising by helping to navigate users to specific online content when the user scans the QR code with their mobile phone. Data matrix (the second most common format), has seen adoption in logistics and manufacturing. Both can be very small (5mm/sq) yet still contain a lot of data and in some applications can be used independently to hold all required information solely in the tag without the need to connect to a database to retrieve more details.

Unlike 1D barcodes where the data is printed above or below the tag for reading without a barcode scanner, 2D barcodes do not usually have the information printed to be read without a scanner. Most barcodes can be read using dedicated barcode scanners (laser or imaging), and virtually all smart phone cameras have the ability to decode both 1D and 2D barcodes natively or via third-party applications. They are reasonably robust and can usually take some minor damage before becoming unreadable, with some formats offering more resilience than others, however they do require a “line-of-sight” to be read. With infinite label and printing options, tamper proof, weather proof and colour independent the technology is cheap and proven.

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Using RFID

In recent years, a number of types of tagging technology have gained prominence. These tags communicate using wireless protocols to the readers or decoders. The most common is RFID which has two main formats, passive and active. Active tags contain a small battery and periodically transmit their data to readers, passive tags have no battery and are activated when radio energy from a reader is transmitted to it allowing it to send its data as a response.

RFID tags do not require “line-of-sight” to be read and whilst there are a number of frequencies and standards, on average the range of data transmission is around 1 metre although some formats can go much further. As with 2D barcodes, the information stored on the tag is rarely printed or visible without a reader, however the data can be re-written or updated if information about the tagged item changes or the tag is reused. This is especially useful as the tags and technology are relatively expensive, although active tags in particular have a limited lifespan as the battery will deplete over time and would need to be swapped out. Tags can be incredibly small, however as the size decreases, the data capacity, transmission distance and other functions are severely limited.

A subset of RFID is NFC, these tags also communicate using specific radio waves, however the technology is increasingly being added to smartphones and computers making the technology very accessible as they can send and receive data to other active and passive NFC tags and devices.

Bluetooth and WiFi tags are other technologies using radio frequencies to transmit data, however both require power to function with no passive, non-powered tags.

Choosing the right asset tagging solution

Deciding which technology is appropriate depends entirely on the situation and budget. Barcodes are proven and once tagged do not need maintenance, however the data cannot be updated without reprinting the tag with the new data. There are many devices which can read barcodes, anyone who has a smartphone has the capacity to do so, and 2D barcodes can hold a lot of data in a very small space. Barcodes do need to be seen to be read however, and this is normally a manual, albeit a split second to take a scan from a short distance away. This does add an element of accuracy as if you know where the barcode reader is, the barcode is there too. It’s incredible cheap and quick to roll out an effective barcode solution and if the desired application has a limited amount of change and updates required to the tags it can be a very effective solution.

Wireless tags pose an interesting option where there is potentially a lot of change and automation and detection are a requirement. The initial investment in the technology can be high as tags, readers, encoders and sensors need to be setup and aren’t cheap. Sensors could be placed around doors to automatically detect tags moving in and out or active tags could emit a signal every hour to indicate they are present in a given location. This could be used to monitor equipment from vehicles to mobile phones or people passing through a building. Accuracy may be an issue, passive tags require a reader to work and like barcodes if you know where the reader is, the tag will likely be close by, but active tags have a relatively high range and could be anywhere in a room or location.

A flexible approach

Our company has deployed a number of solutions to manage IT asset inventories. Usually, 2D barcodes are more than sufficient to tag equipment with details such as name, serial number, asset number, manufacturer, location and owner. This can be done as part of an audit to ensure all information is correct and our small mobile printers can instantly print a 2D tag out to be fixed onto the device. Where a device only moves once or twice a year, when managed with strict change procedures, re-tagging with new information becomes part of the move and validation process. We have also seen success with RFID tags which can be used to detect when an item enters and leaves a room, assisting with installation and decommission processes. We adopt a flexible approach by reviewing and recommending appropriate solutions depending on the exact requirements and can demonstrate each option to help users understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Find out how TRACKIT are providing businesses with smarter asset management solutions, empowering them with the insight to make more intelligent business decisions at www.trackit-solutions.com

Can a data centre be as fast to respond to the complexity of business as a sports car or jet responds to the accelerator?

 

The starting point for “implementing” a top of the range sports car or jumbo jet are similar to a new data centre – specifications are scoped, built and tested before they go forward.

Additionally, there are procedures in place for Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) and identifying and fixing faults that happen. As requirements evolve there is a level of maintenance/upgrading that can meet these new requirements.

However here is where the similarities differ. There are limitations to what you can do to a car or jet. There comes a point where the operator/owner must replace. Prior to this decision, certainly in the case of the jet at an airline, they will examine in very close detail what is “in” the jet. This is the only way they can be confident in the decision to replace.

After all a car or jet cannot just grow. You cannot just add another wheel or wing.

However, in a data centre it is sometimes seems easier and acceptable to satisfy the evolving complexity of requirements by just adding to the data centre, increasing its size and content…even to the extent of implementing an additional data centre.

This is often done without thoroughly reviewing what is in the existing infrastructure because it is seen as too difficult. Whether there is unused capacity any of the assets is not considered because they do not accurately know what assets they have/and or where they are. As such, how is PPM maintained and what happens when there is a “fault”?

The only commercially viable way to have and maintain this accuracy is through physical infrastructure audit(s). However, this is seldom done either because it is not deemed possible or as “exciting” as new technology.

It is possible to do a full physical audit in a commercial and timely way. Implementation of new technology does not solve the potential problems that may already be in the data centre.

As data centres increase in size and complexity, not just locally, but globally and through the Cloud, it is becoming more important to maintain the basics correctly. Calculating what the data centre can deliver, what changes need to be made and the costs in time, resource and money, can only be done with a starting point of accurate infrastructure data. Add to this processes and tools to control additional Install, Move, Add and Change (IMAC) events, and the organisation can use the Data Centre to respond to the changing complexities of their business, without the risk of failure in mission critical areas and spiralling costs.

Learn more about how TRACKIT are helping businesses make smarter decisions around data centre management at www.trackit-solutions.com

Is DCIM adoption being hit by the same problems as ERP in the 90s?

We are watching the evolution of Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) systems and their adoption by data centres with great interest. It is similar to the evolution and adoption of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems in the 1990′s. The scope and complexity of some of these systems implementations nearly caused some large enterprises to go out of business. This was often prevented by the enterprise “upgrading” to a “lesser” system.

In the same way there are some large organisations with multiple global data centres who are currently upgrading from a major DCIM system to spreadsheets.

The reason is that they have often bought the “ideal” without looking at the reality. The cost in time and money of implementing the system can result in a negative ROI. A DCIM system is only as good as the data in it. So the population of the system is key. How long will this take? How accurate can this be when “go live” is reached? Can the accuracy of the data be maintained within the DCIM, in some cases globally at data centres of different sizes with different levels of management resource.

Automatic discovery and monitoring tools will, over time, improve the accuracy of data within DCIM and therefore the management information generated. However once again we are early in the evolution of these tools and should not be too influenced by the ideal. Unless we are implementing DCIM for brand new data centres with new IT and Infrastructure, possibly from limited vendors, we should be aware of the limitations of relying on automatic discovery and monitoring tools. For example, these tools cannot identify equipment which is switched off or not connected.

The DCIM system can become as mission critical in enterprises as the ERP system has become. Therefore the selection, implementation and progression are vital, and each organisation must look at their own priorities and resource, not aiming for the ideal, but good, continuing and improving ROI.

In starting this major project, an organisation must not overlook the basics; what is in the data centre, and to what level of detail and accuracy can the DCIM be populated and maintained?

Spending significant sums of money on DCIM for the really exceptional capacity planning does not help if the only budget/resource remaining means the data in the system can only be maintained at 70% accuracy. The business information from the system would probably be as accurate using thumb, pen, paper and calculator. How good is a dashboard if it is wrong?

On the other hand, if the initial budget is used to populate and maintain detailed and accurate infrastructure (asset) data in the management system, an organisation can work from here to evolve the system in manageable stages. Early ROI in the form of control on OPEX can lead to increased and better directed CAPEX both on the DCIM and data centre as a whole.

DCIM systems and tools are a necessity to business as the digital age progresses. By getting the basics right, implementing the DCIM can provide early business benefits without increasing or missing risks in the data centre.

Find out more about TRACKIT’s alternative approach to DCIM implementation at www.trackit-solutions.com

Tag your IT

I loved playing tag as a kid. It was an important part of growing up, introducing at an early age such things as strategy and competitive advantage. It was very simple and basic, but that did not take away its importance.

Now as TRACKIT helps global enterprises manage their mission critical data centres and the IT assets therein, we maintain the importance of the basics. Tag your IT is at the top of the list.

As sophisticated (and often expensive) as an IT asset is, it does not know important details such as:

  • Location – data centre, room, floor, rack, rack unit, rotation…
  • Identity – manufacturer, model number, serial number, company asset number…
  • Connectivity – power, network

However, by doing something as simple as tagging that asset, it can effectively and quickly tell you critical information and make management more efficient.

Yes, data centre infrastructure management tools are rapidly evolving to include automatic discovery, monitoring and optimisation tools. However, even ignoring their cost, they have not removed the need to do the basics. Even in a state of the art, greenfield data centre there will be devices and locations where these tools do not work. Asset tagging is still necessary on installation.

The correct tagging of IT assets increases the efficiency of data centre management, by reducing the level of manual resource and therefore time cost and risk of error. It improves the accuracy of data in your management systems and eases the maintenance of this accuracy.

The digital age means there is continual growth in the size, complexity and number of data centres, because of the increasing requirement for speed and accuracy of data in business. The accuracy of the data on the assets in the data centre is vital to mitigate the risk of non-delivery. Tag your IT so you can cost effectively manage this.

If tagging is so important, why is it often not done, or not to the right level?

It’s a combination of misunderstanding the cost vs. deliverable and not maintaining the right procedures.

Firstly from the procedures side, tagging is dynamic, not one off. If a device is moved it should be retagged. If a legacy data centre is implementing a new Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) system, but the assets only have 1D bar codes, they should be retagged with 2D or RFID so it can reflect the level of detail held in the DCIM.

Portable micro-printers are available, which can mean tagging and retagging can efficiently become part of the Install, Move, Add and Change (IMAC) processes in the data centre.

The tangible costs (printers and labels) are negligible. The cost in time can also be kept low, if for example, the (re)tagging is performed as part of a physical infrastructure audit of the data centre.

In comparison to the cost, the deliverables of IT asset tagging can be great:

  • Speed and accuracy of a data centre move – the assets can “tell” you which rack, RU and connectivity they should have
  • Validating rack device content to DCIM in seconds, meaning the necessary physical audits are accurate and actually delivered
  • Removing the risk of moving or turning off the wrong server/device

Yes, it is simple and basic. However, its importance to the management of your data centre(s) is vital. Tag your IT!

Find out how TRACKIT can help with tagging your IT assets at www.trackit-solutions.com