Sun Looks to RFID for IT Asset Tracking

Updated: Sun's rollout of an RFID-enabled physical asset tracking system will be followed in a few months by a more comprehensive announcement.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is eyeing a future product that will combine its existing software for IT asset management with a new solution, unveiled on Wednesday, that uses RFID for tracking "non-networked" physical assets ranging from rack mountable computer servers to hospital equipment and furniture.

Sun and its partners developed the new Sun RFID Industry Solution for Physical Asset Tracking to fill an immediate market need, said Vijay Sarathy, director of RFID product marketing and strategy, in an interview.

Ultimately, RFID carries strong potential for pervasive use across large supply chains, according to Sarathy.

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"But until then, people need plenty of help just keeping track of things and finding them in smaller parts of the supply chain," he said.

Tested internally within two departments of Sun before its release this week, the new physical asset tracking system bundles Applied Logistics Solutions RFID-enabled mobile asset tracking system with Suns Solaris OS, Java Enterprise System and RFID middleware.

Sun has been testing the solution with RFID tags and readers from third-party partners, too, Sarathy said.

As Sarathy sees it, the system can also serve as "a bridge between physical assets and the network."

Asset tracking systems for the "physical world" are not entirely new, according to some analysts.

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"But they really havent gotten that far because, until now, most of these systems have been highly customized," said Sarah Shah, an analyst with ABI Research.

In contrast, Suns new solution has widespread applicability, according to Shah. "It can be used in office buildings, hospitals, or almost anywhere else for asset tracking," she said.

Initially, Sun is targeting its new system at IT departments, hospitals and the retail and manufacturing industries, according to Sarathy.

The company has tested the system internally in the Sun Tradeshow Equipment Distribution Center in Milpitas, Calif., as well as at the Sun Shared Lab Facility in Newark, Calif.

The Tradeshow Equipment Distribution Center is using the system to keep track of equipment and other assets shipped from its 5,000-square-foot warehouse to local and international trade shows and partner events.

Meanwhile, in the Shared Lab Facility, Sun has placed RFID tags on more than 10,000 computers and other pieces of equipment in a data center. Some of these products, such as network routers, are quite valuable, according to the Sun executive.

Beyond building productivity by helping to locate misplaced equipment, the solution also assists with supply chain planning by gauging the comparative demand for—or "popularity" of—various assets, he said.

"Some [rackmountable] servers, for example, spend a lot of time on the rack, whereas others just sit on the shelf," Sarathy said.

Also at the Shared Lab, Suns RFID division is collaborating with IT Operations to combine the new physical asset tracking system with Suns existing IT management product, which is used for auditing network-attached hardware and software assets.

Sarathy expects the integration project to wrap up in about three or four months, with another product announcement from Sun to follow.

Editors Note: This article has been updated to include additional comments from an interview with Suns Vijay Sarathy.

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