HP Announces RFID Technology

Successful test could lead to marketing of product

Hewlett-Packard is developing homegrown RFID technology to track its own data center assets and, eventually, to bring to market.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company on Oct. 17 announced it had completed a successful test of its radio-frequency identification technology with Midwest supermarket chain Meijer.

The move by HP is part of a trend among enterprises that are starting to explore ways to track assets in their IT departments, according to Pete Abell, an analyst for IDC Manufacturing Insights, in Framingham, Mass. "Using RFID to track and manage assets makes good business sense," said Abell, who is preparing a report about asset tracking and management for IDC.

RFID isnt the only wireless tracking technology HP is working on. In July, the company demonstrated Memory Spots, chips that can store about 250 times more data than RFID, transmit that data about 20 times faster and include built-in native security capabilities.

Although its still two years away from hitting the market, HP officials said the technology can be attached to an object as small as a postcard or photo-graph to add audio-, video- and/or document-based data to the object.

In the proof-of-concept test with Meijer, HP was able to use RFID readers and tags developed by HP Labs to track, in real time, data center assets for Meijer, which owns almost 200 retail and grocery stores.

Specifically, HPs RFID solution was used to track several hundred of Meijers servers in its data center, down to the computer rack where an individual server was located, said Cyril Brignone, a project manager for HP.

HP used its technology to monitor individual devices within Meijers data center. The technology told IT staff if a new device, such as a server, had been added to the center or if a server or other piece of hardware had been moved.

HPs RFID technology then created a high-resolution view of devices in the data center and provided historical information related to additions or changes of servers or other assets.

"We have created the first real-time automatic asset-tracking solution for the data center," Brignone told eWeek. "We were able to track any asset down to the rack where it was located."

HPs RFID technology can eliminate the need for IT professionals to make periodic trips to the data center to manually check that all the assets are present and accounted for, Brignone said.

Brignone and his team have been working on the data center tracking system for several years—HP has been using and developing RFID technology for about four years now—but there was no indication when the solution would become widely available.

Despite that, a company spokesperson said HP decided to announce its new technology following the successful test with Meijer.

"Right now, there are no offerings at this point," the spokesperson said. "What we had so far was a proof-of-concept test that was very successful."

HP has also been using a similar solution in its own internal supply chain. The spokesperson said the technology would appeal to companies as a way to save money and streamline the supply chain.

Sarah Shah, an analyst at ABI Research, in Oyster Bay, N.Y., said that tracking IT assets in the data center is not a unique concept but the HP technology would be attractive to enterprises looking for a cost-effective way of protecting infrastructure.

"This appeals to any large enterprise that has a lot of critical information and a vested interest in protecting its data and its equipment," Shah said.

Since most active RFID tags last a long time and are reusable, Shah said customers RFID investments are mostly upfront. Once the solution is in place, the only additional costs, such as upgrades or the addition of servers or other IT assets to the data center, are optional, Shah said.