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RFID And The Myth Of Technical Superiority

Oct 02, 2013

What is RFID and how does it compare to other SMB Server Room Temperature Monitoring Options?

When trying to decide what solution to choose for Server Room Temperature Monitoring, IT professionals in Small and MidSized Businesses have my sympathy. Just search Data Center Temperature Monitoring on Google and in less than a second over 10,000,000 results are found. Who has time to go through the first 100, never mind 10 million? And who knows if the top search results are there because they paid to be there or not? Certainly Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ranking is in large part due to the volume of meaningful, hopefully original web content and companies with big marketing budgets ought to dominate in this area by hiring PR firms to produce copy, blogs and social media posts. (Full Disclaimer: Temperature@lert uses paid Google advertisements and does it best to optimize SEO on a very limited budget.)



Google search results: Data Center Temperature Monitoring (September 25, 2013)

Recently, because temperature monitoring has been a capability added to DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) offerings, IT professionals may incorrectly DCIM is equal to environmental monitoring. This perception can become costly Small and MidSized Businesses. In general, SMB server rooms with their limited mix of equipment housed in closets or small office spaces need robust temperature monitoring, primarily because they likely do not have dedicated air conditioning and can overheat quickly when someone turns off the AC for the weekend or when the AC unit fails. DCIM systems can monitor the temperature and send alerts when problems occur, but their primary capability is in asset management and change control of the servers and other electronic systems. A few rack of equipment that often ranges in age from one year to a decade or more in some cases is well served by a spreadsheet and does not need 24/7/365 accounting in most cases.

Several DCIM suppliers have introduced RFID sensor tags into their product lineup. RFID comes in two forms, active and passive. The tag contains an RFID device that in the case of passive is activated when interrogated by a reader that generally needs to be in close proximity to the device, up to 10 feet (3 meters) for example. Think of the security scanner at the exits of your local department store that sounds when a tag goes through it and you’ll understand how this works. For asset management tags would be placed on the asset to be monitored and someone would walk through the aisles with a reader to collect the data. Assets are not continuously monitored with this approach.

Unlike passive tags, active RFID tags have battery powered RFID transmitters and a range of 100 feet (30 meters) for example. Tag readers are placed within an aisle or room and interrogate the tags on a user selected schedule to give near real time data collection. Temperature and other sensors would consist of tags with thermistors or digital sensors to monitor the room’s ambient. RFID devices operate in the same spectrum as WiFi, Zigbee, Bluetooth and related wireless devices, so in many ways are nearly identical to temperature sensors using these technologies. Active RFID devices require regular battery replacement, often every year or two.

Some DCIM vendors are promoting the replacement of passive RFID tags with active tags in data centers to eliminate the need for a technician to walk a reader through the server rack aisles and provide near real time data collection for improved asset security. These factors highlight the relative newness of RFID in data center environments where radio frequencies are often challenging and the very large number needed for asset management with any granularity.

RF Spectrum for Wireless Temperature Sensor Options (Link to Source)

Active RFID, Bluetooth and Zigbee all require a compatible receiver to collect the data. This could consist of the compatible RFID, Bluetooth or Zigbee receiver and an Ethernet, Cellular or WiFi connection.  Standalone WiFi temperature monitors do not require a reader because they can connect directly to the site’s network to transmit the data, making it one of the most cost effective approaches to the job of temperature monitoring. WiFi temperature monitors can often support multiple wired sensors to provide coverage in larger spaces. 

Example of self-healing mesh network (Link to Source)

Zigbee and related wireless devices require a reader or gateway. They offer the additional capability of being able to connect to other sensors in a mesh network. This capability can eliminate the necessity of single purpose data gateways such as those used in RFID systems since the Zigbee device serves both as a sensor and data pathway to nearby sensors. And mesh network can offer a self-healing function whereby if one device fails or interference from a solid metal object blocks the transmission, the mesh network can determine if an alternate pathway is available and if so automatically switch to it and send an alert that the previous pathway is not available. To incorporate mesh networking into RFID tags, literature has suggested pairing RFID with Zigbee, which of course adds cost and complexity and highlights again concerns about the long term RFID roadmap. (Link to Source)

When considering temperature monitoring technology for SMB server rooms, IT professionals will want to compare the performance, cost, maintenance and ease of use of the myriad of devices on the market.  Buying “right sized” technology can help not only meet the current need and budget, but insure the installation is up and running quickly, providing the protection the business needs and a shorter RoI. For information about USB, WiFi, Cellular and Wireless sensors, one can visit Temperature@lert’s website at

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