Active RFID Tags in Data Center Asset Management: A Quick Overview

Posted by RF Code

Data centers, with their countless racks and cabinets, may seem static at first glance, but these dynamic, unpredictable environments require precise and efficient asset management. Due to the high associated costs of manual inventory tracking and the inefficiency of inventory consolidation, data centers are increasingly turning to RFID to reduce costs, increase inventory accuracy, and improve overall operational efficiency. One recent example is the Social Security Administration’s announcement of a 90 percent reduction in the amount of labor required for tracking data center inventory and a 33 percent improvement in inventory accuracy after the adoption of RFID.

Active vs. Passive RFID: What's the Difference?

RFID technology is used to automatically track assets by sending radio waves to a reader. There are two types of RFID tags: active and passive. Active RFID tags have their own power source (i.e. a battery), while passive tags rely on a reader for power. The chief advantage found in choosing active RFID over passive is in automation: active RFID tags are able to continuously emit data whereas passive RFID tags must be manually scanned. While active and passive RFID tag technologies are frequently evaluated together, and passive solutions certainly provide great value in some sdeployment scenarios, active tags offer far greater value and functionality for data center asset tracking.  

Active vs. PassiveAutomation is the Key to Efficiency

With the average square footage of data centers between 10,000 and 25,000 ft2, manual asset tracking is no longer a viable option. Cisco recently published a case study chronicling their decision to shift from manual asset tracking to RFID tags to avoid error and decrease costs. Cisco IT chose to adopt active RFID tags, because passive RFID tags would lead to the same inconsistencies and labor associated with their previous spreadsheet-tracking method. Passive RFID tracking would require the team to manually scan tags in the event of equipment relocation—pulling valuable employees away from more vital tasks. Active RFID tags are able to transmit signal up to 300 feet, which means that stationary readers, such as those offered by RF Code, remain in a centralized location, as compared to passive tags which boast a read range of only 20-40 ft.

Real-Time Data Provides Continuous Visibility

Active RFID tags’ ability to detect changes in the data center environment facilitates the only truly up-to-date DCIM system. By independently monitoring data center assets, organizations are able to receive real-time updates unavailable with passive tags. RFID solutions offered by RF Code are built on open standards which allow the RFID system to be easily integrated into the center’s existing DCIM or ERP, thus preventing data system sprawl, unnecessary inventory reconciliation, and IT overhead.

Costs: Rapid ROI, Ongoing Savings

Finally, active RFID cost per unit may be higher than passive (for example, RF Code's asset tags are priced at under $20 per tag, while functionally similar passive tags typically run $5-15 per tag), but active RFID provides greater ROI (return on investment) and passive RFID is more typically used on lower-cost, smaller assets due to its tendency towards error and malfunction

Due to the higher cost of active RFID tags when compared with passive RFID tags the up-front cost of an active RFID solution deployment may be higher than a comparable passive RFID solution. However, once the costs of the handheld passive RFID readers and portals required to read the tags are factored in this price difference typically becomes far less significant ... or disappears altogether. More importantly, passive RFID solutions require ongoing, periodic manual efforts to energize the tags and collect the data they provide, requiring many costly person-hours as an ongoing annual expense. 

Conversely, the automated data provided by active RFID solutions requires no manual interaction and delivers continuous information about assets and their environment for the entire life of the tag or sensor. This automation ensures accuracy and prevents asset loss, while also freeing personnel who would typically be tasked with gathering asset data manually to perform more important, less time-consuming work.  The result is a very rapid return on investment (typically less than a year) and ongoing savings that result in a far lower total cost of ownership for active RFID solutions.