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Wireless Networking IT

Finding Lost IT With RFID 112

CWmike writes "Vendors are increasingly trying to sell users on the idea that they need to stick RFID tags on IT equipment to keep track of it. Users are interested in this technology because they would much rather automate inventory tracking then go server-to-server with a bar code scanner and clipboard. But the new push for RFID tags in data centers also hints at a larger issue: There may be a significant amount of equipment that can't be located. And while out-of-sight, out-of-mind is not always bad, there's a least one nagging problem: 'Ghost server' systems, which may still be drawing power but perform no work and may be difficult to locate. One vendor at the Afcom data center conference suggests IT shops get some 'GPS for your assets.'"
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Finding Lost IT With RFID

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  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @04:44PM (#33816348)
    2) Stick RFID tag to rack...
    3) ???
    4) Profit!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rubycodez ( 864176 )

      3. sell on eBay

      1. steal women's panties, also use for #3. horny underwear gnomery

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Lord Ender ( 156273 )

      1) forget about your ghost server
      2) never patch it
      3) you make my penetration test really easy; thanks!

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ftp> o ghost12.datacenter.com
        Connected to ghost12.datacenter.com
        220 Microsoft FTP Service
        User (ghost12.datacenter.com:(none)): Anonymous
        331 Anonymous access allowed, send identity (e-mail name) as password.
        230-Welcome to ghost12.datacenter.com.

        230 User logged in.
        ftp>cd /pub/ ../ /. /. /warez/appz/

  • don't data centers have poor gps signals and have lots of systems in same area makes it easy for the RFID signal to be drowned out.

    • I think the idea is to track it when it leaves the building. As long as it isn't out of the building you can have some assurance that it's somewhere in the building. Not that the approach is perfect, GPS tends to suck around here for some reason, more so downtown with all the buildings.
      • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 )

        I think the idea is to track it when it leaves the building

        I don't know. The first thing I thought of when I saw the headline was this guy [bash.org]. I used to think it was funny, but these days I'm getting dangerously close to it myself. if I could just tag all the different power-supplies I have in the house it would be a start. It would be great to go to the hard-drive pile and easily pick out the one that actually corresponds to "used to be stuffed in the beige Sempron box I used as a firewall back in 2005".

        • by hitmark ( 640295 )

          I recall reading a more elaborate story (tho thanks for reminding me about the bash.org quote, as i think i read it years ago) where a university had a old Unix server that would happily do its thing, but they had no clue where on campus it was located. End result was that they traced it by following the cabling, and discovering that it was behind a drywall that had been set up when the building was redecorated.

    • They weren't saying it would have actual GPS tracking. It would just be "like" GPS, or as they said "Think of it as a GPS for your assets,"

      TFA says each tag is $14, and a rack cost is $200 to $400.

      If you had actual GPS tracking, it's one thing to capture the coordinates. It's another thing to send them somewhere. If someone walked out of your datacenter with a machine, it can't exactly talk over the network. It would need an embedded cell phone solution. I

    • every server room I working in is RF shielded from the outside world. GPS wont work, as they barely working indoors without shielding....
  • by loconet ( 415875 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @04:46PM (#33816376) Homepage
    Obligatory bash.org quote:

    #5273 +(30069)-
    <erno> hm. I've lost a machine.. literally _lost_. it responds to ping, it works completely, I just can't figure out where in my apartment it is.
    • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @04:54PM (#33816530)
      There's the classic "Cask of Amontillado" "Novell server drywalled up in room for years, keeps on ticking". Teh slashdots talked about it back in 2001 [slashdot.org], but there are plenty of "lost BSD boxen" stories out there, too.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @07:58PM (#33818650)

        There's the classic "Cask of Amontillado" "Novell server drywalled up in room for years, keeps on ticking". Teh slashdots talked about it back in 2001 [slashdot.org], but there are plenty of "lost BSD boxen" stories out there, too.

        Lots of "found" servers too. Years ago when I worked for a small IT support outsource department (4 guys, some phones and a van) we were packing up the office to move to new premises. Underneath a pile of boxes that were under a desk we found a running server. We had no idea what it was for, other than it had network and power cables running into our server rack. So my boss said "Yank the power, see who screams!". 30 seconds later, one of the owners of the company came running down the stairs demanding to know why his production VM server hosting clients was down. Problem solved :)

        • It's a shame this was posted AC, and so late in the discussion, because this is soooooooo IT, it's almost archetypal.
  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @04:47PM (#33816420) Homepage Journal

    And there's Sheldon, putting RFID tags on all the mice and keyboards in the server room (after he finishes RFIDing his socks).

    "With all due respects, Dr. Cooper..."

  • I suppose GPS would work for outdoor data centres, but I haven't run across many of those ...

  • in location: Waiting for satellite...

    I wonder why? I'm in in the bunker, with all the servers...

  • While GPS is a poor solution for most data centers (weak satellite signals), active wireless tracking systems (Awarepoint [awarepoint.com] being but one example, but there are many others) often pay for themselves the first time one avoids the purchase of a capital item. Plus, being able to tell the PHB where all the XYZ units are at any instant, and why they can't be used for some new application you have in mind, is great evidence when you want to purchase something.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Couldn't you just make a note of all the MAC addresses on each server's network interfaces, then use those to figure out which port of which switch they are on and thus which rack they are in?

  • Will it... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tacarat ( 696339 )
    Find stuff that migrated to somebody's apartment?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A decade ago I heard about an office move where they found a locked closet that nobody knew about.

    They opened it up and there was an OS/2 server that hadn't been rebooted in 2 years.

  • Assumes a link between inventory management and operations, which probably does not exist at most locations.

    Making inventory management easier isn't going to help if there is no link at all between inventory and operations.

    Most of the numerous places I've worked at ran inventory on a spares system.. Thou shalt have one spare device at every major POP and datacenter, or the technique used was purchasing depts job was to keep the supply cabinet full of routers.

    • by dcavanaugh ( 248349 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:16PM (#33816888) Homepage

      Even if inventory and operations live together in perfect harmony, the tags identify PHYSICAL servers. Thanks to the magic of virtualization, you might have several zombie virtual machines along with [maybe] one that is truly needed -- all in the same physical box.

      Even if the tags do their job and you think you have positively identified a defunct box to be shut down and removed, what level of confidence do you have that NONE of the virtual machines are still necessary?

      • by seifried ( 12921 )
        Simple, suspend their network access or hibernate them and see if anyone complains. When you do delete the server just make a backup of the virtual servers in case you do need them later. This isn't rocket science.
        • Simple enough, but it all depends on what breaks and who complains. Even worse if the users don't complain immediately or the server was supplying some kind of support function that is not facing the users directly. In that case, you might have a quiet failure that becomes a fiasco. If the users are actually customers, how many are you willing to disappoint? At what cost?

          I wouldn't know so much about the various failure modes if I had not seen so many of them in real life. There is an attitude in mode

    • and how often are emergency equipment swaps / replacements done with the inventory part being a much lower on the to do list then getting the system working again how often is inventory messed up by fat fingers? poor management that does not do there part?

  • by Chris Snook ( 872473 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:05PM (#33816714)

    ...then how is knowing that the server you're looking for is (or more likely is not) somewhere within X meters going to help?

    • by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:21PM (#33816928)

      The primary motivation for this technology -- last time I was told about it -- was in hospitals. Expensive equipment is wheeled around a lot, and people sometimes need to know where it is now. An RFID scanner in rooms/doorways and tags on the equipment could tell you this -- so long as the tag was resistant to being bashed against a doorway.

      • Yeah with hospital equipment I can see it, as you say it's moved about a lot and it's generally pretty obvious whether it is in use or not.

        With servers in the datacenter they tend to stay in one place and it's much harder to tell if they are in use for something unless records are kept religously. A server may only be used once a month yet have some crucial task when that time of the month comes up.

    • I work at a steel maker... On the shop floor equipment is tucked away all over the place to keep it from getting hit by fork trucks, dropped steel, hot steel,etc. There are small "fanless" machines tucked inside electrical boxes, stuck in the rafters, or access panels of equipment. Even when you do get there they can be covered in 2 years of dirt and slime... because you put them "out of the way" and you wouldn't recognize them.

  • by way2slo ( 151122 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:05PM (#33816720) Journal

    The RFID systems I have seen in the field are poorly implemented. Most were thick, think 9v battery, tags that were either attached via zip ties or velcro. Even if it was securely attached, most were attached to removable face plates, while others were attached to the rear and would actually prevent you from pulling out the server and/or damage the cabling if you did, as it tended to hang down and catch on stuff. (snap off fibers, pull out power cords, etc.) They offered no assurance that that piece of equipment was in the room since they could easily be separated from the tag. Even with this system, you'll still need people to visually verify it anyway.

    How often do you actually lose a piece of hardware? This is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

    Barcode or your own SN sticker followed up by visual inspections is cheaper, safer, and more reliable compared to the RFID solutions I have seen out there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid ( 135745 )

      An advantage of RFID, is that you can discreetly put readers in the building and be notified when some goes walking out the door with equipment.

      also, we have 15 floor of computers, have a reader is a lot easier the visually inspecting.

      • Oh God, you have no idea how useful such as system in place would be for the home garage. Keeping track of tools is enough to sell me on the idea.

        Now if Craftsman or Snap-On (those are expensive) could embed RFID into their sockets and wrenches to withstand motor oil, I would never have to worry about losing that must-have 10mm.

      • OK, fine, but let's say you have a reader. The reader tells you "Tag X detected". You know that Tag X corresponds to machine Y. Where is machine Y?

        You have the following circumstances:
        A) Low power reader. You have to hold the reader right next to the machine for the RFID to work. This requires manual inspection and knowledge of where the machine is in the first place.
        B) Mid-power reader. The machine is within, say, 5 feet. Unless your organization is freaking horrible you're basically just performing
    • by xaxa ( 988988 )

      Hospitals are the main user of active asset tracking, AFAIIA (yes, I just wrote that) [slashdot.org]. The company developing the tags was (I think) Philips, who were making extremely thin (1-2mm) batteries, which could be stuck on the asset with good adhesive. (Philips make lots of medical equipment, which is presumably why they're doing this.)

    • Indeed.

      And all that information should be stored in a database for easy searching.

      "How many DSO02 digital output cards are in use at **** plant today and where are they located?" should be a simple question to answer with a few queries.
      Especially for the time in the future when DSO02 cards are no longer available as spare parts and you need to move to a different type of card....

      Probably not nearly as problematic in pure server racks but surely a pain in the ass for anyone managing a complex control system

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Losing hardware is easy.

      Consider the following hypothetical . You are a large cell phone service provider, who grew by acquiring lots of small cell phone service providers - meaning, you bought 500 mom-and-pop providers starting in the early 1990s. In 2007, your fixed asset manager reported that there was a significant difference between all the fixed assets (read: high-cost items) in your inventory system and your financial reporting system. Significant as in mid-eight figures in dollar impact.


      • by tftp ( 111690 )

        Unless every company you ever bought had meticulously maintained financial and inventory records for every item placed in service over the life of the asset base (7-10 years, in general) AND your accounting staff got everything accurately entered into your systems during the acquisition

        It doesn't matter how meticulously the acquired company maintained their records. You are expected to inspect all that during the acquisition. On the day of acquisition all these assets (and problems) become yours. If you

  • Submitter, type out 500 times: 'I will not type "then" when I mean "than"'
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:16PM (#33816882)

    http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=6505527 [informationweek.com]

    By John Rendleman
    April 9, 2001 06:58 AM

    The University of North Carolina has finally found a network server that, although missing for four years, hasn't missed a packet in all that time.

    Try as they might, university administrators couldn't find the server. Working with Novell, IT workers tracked it down by meticulously following cable until they literally ran into a wall. The server had been mistakenly sealed behind drywall by maintenance workers.

  • just put the where abouts in 'finger'?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      'cause there's always some doofus who doesn't update the location and you're back at square one

  • Audits (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "And while out-of-sight, out-of-mind is not always bad, there's a least one nagging problem: 'Ghost server' systems, which may still be drawing power but perform no work and may be difficult to locate."

    Performing an audit once or twice a year could solve this problem.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by aix tom ( 902140 )

      Ah, but that would mean managers would have to pay money to actual workers to do actual work. Which is boring, and they don't get to sit in any meetings.

      They much rather just pay money to some consultants that just tell them all that is well with the new gimmick they are about to buy, while they look at a nice Powerpoint presentation and drink coffee.

    • Unlike most of the people posting here, I've been tasked with obtaining an inventory of installed machines at a major transportation company. Here's the real truth: you can never locate / inventory all of the installed machines. The more time and effort you spend the closer you can come to an accurate audit - but you'll never get closer than 90% or so no matter how hard you try.

      What never gets considered in these schemes is how often someone moves "their" computer or server to their new location. Joe Blow

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        When you finally understand this simple truth then you'll realize that there's also no way you can audit or manage software licenses. Not just because of those phantom machines that show up from time to time, but also because of all the employees who bring in a useful program CD from home or download something handy from the internet. You can tell them this isn't permitted - we actually put big red labels on the front of every machine that reminded them that this was prohibited. That didn't slow them down a

  • I developed and managed systems like this for a living in the 2000's in Europe. The resolution of the realtime location of assets for the RFCode hardware was probable the best in the market, but suffers a lot from reflections and too expensive readers, last I heard from them was trying to lower the price for the Mantis receivers.
    • by Saiyine ( 689367 )
      To clarify: the resolution of the information the tags give to you and you use to feed your real time location software, which my developers and I wrote.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Starts with the boss explaining, "This is an important server, don't take it home and use it for games. I'll be watching!" Ends with the Boss following the RFID signal into the tape safe.

  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Wednesday October 06, 2010 @05:40PM (#33817254)

    We had this problem in the mid-90s. We had a Sun server in the building which was regularly used by remote logins (I think it was a build machine so just used to build the Sparc version of the software), but one day we had to find for a hardware upgrade and no-one could remember where the heck it was... we eventually had to get it to play music so we could walk around the building and listen for it.

  • As an electrical engineer, I frequently have to work with IT folks to provide data gathering systems on the equipment we install in our manufacturing facilities. Some of these plant floor networks are huge, and have tentacles that reach into every machine and sub-system processor. I never cease to be amazed at the complete lack of documentation that the IT folks put into physically mapping their network equipment. They will quite literally wave their flashlights and point to where they want the central netw

    • Indeed, back in the early days of engineering, that's how things were built, and it took many decades before the value of making plans and documenting them was recognized.

      In many ways, we are still in the early days of IT.

      Networks and systems have expanded at an incredible rate, and we are only now learning the lesson of planning and documentation. We knew conceptually that it was a good idea to have network diagrams, and to update our logs of where items were, but on a practical day-to-day basis it was lower priority than simply making it work.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 )

      As an electrical engineer, I frequently have to work with IT folks to provide data gathering systems on the equipment we install in our manufacturing facilities. Some of these plant floor networks are huge, and have tentacles that reach into every machine and sub-system processor. I never cease to be amazed at the complete lack of documentation that the IT folks put into physically mapping their network equipment.

      Not our job.

      Physical mapping is considerably less important then logical mapping. It doesn

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Because IT guys aren't engineers. Their motto seems to be "measure with a micrometer, mark with chalk, cut with an axe." I'm sure that to you guys, the term "software engineer" is either hilarious or annoying.

      • Actually, no. We electrical engineers often do programming, too, although in a very specialized language related to programmable logic controllers. (It's like boolean logic: if this happens and this other thing happens then put something in motion, otherwise go into fault mode. Let the motion go for a certain period of time, and then put everything back the way it was. Now do that routine 10 times, then wait for someone to start you up again...that sort of thing.)
    • by drsmithy ( 35869 )

      One big reason is because IT is an extremely immature field with no formal education requirements and basically zero accountability or liability concerns.

      The other big reason is because IT folks know that in a few months when the goalposts shift again, all their documentation is going to be out of date anyway, so why bother documenting in the first place. :)

  • I believe CISCO has a technology and equipment that does precisely that. Allows you to track your RFIDed equipment with their APs.
    They even have a controller to process all the info.

  • Every year I find the 5 oldest systems in the data center and turn them off.. No outages so far, Hehe.

  • We had tags for people and assets (printers, photocopiers, overhead projectors, computer manuals) that were used for location information, for door access, for having your computer screen follow around (they built an X-proxy and later developed it into VNC). This was 1992-1999 at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory in cooperation with the Olivetti Research labs (was changed to AT&T research labs or the other way around), who manufactured the devices. The tags worked on infrared, so putting

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!