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Finding Lost IT With RFID

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the tag-it dept.

Wireless Networking 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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112 comments

1) Take RFID tag off equipment... (2, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816348)

2) Stick RFID tag to rack...
3) ???
4) Profit!

Re:1) Take RFID tag off equipment... (2, Funny)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816582)

3. sell on eBay

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

Re:1) Take RFID tag off equipment... (2, Funny)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816876)

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

Re:1) Take RFID tag off equipment... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817748)

ftp
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.
Password:
230-Welcome to ghost12.datacenter.com.

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

Re:1) Take RFID tag off equipment... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33818468)

3) you make my penetration test really easy; thanks!

So does your mom!

don't data centers have poor gps signals and have (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816370)

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.

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816638)

Try active RFID as opposed to passive.

Passive is when did this tag last get scanned or pass by a reader field (remove tag and walk past reader avoiding cameras = shiny new kit).

Active is within RF range (30' or so) of a ceiling mounted RF reader, within line of sight of an IR Reader, or in physical proximity to an exciter. Remove tag from equipment or press button equals alarm plus location info plus PTZ nearest camera to cover area plus lock doors until authorized tag enters.

Installed this is a hospital and worked great, until the unions got involved.

Seems the same tag that can actively track your equipment and provide a wireless duress for staff can also tell you when the janitor has been at lunch for the last two hours or when the doctor left early for golf.

And, no, you can't remove the tag or the clothing it is attached to as it also your name tag and your RFID card for Access Control.

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (1)

dasherjan (1485895) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816808)

From an IT perspective that really does sound like a nifty inventory/tracking system. Though I do understand the unions argument. If I were an orderly and need a break because I just cleaned up my seventh puddle of vomit for the day. I'd hate to have someone from accounting pitching a fit because I took a break when I "didn't need one". /shudder

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (1)

Local ID10T (790134) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818582)

lock doors until authorized tag enters.

In a data center.

With Halon based fire suppression.

Bad plan.

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33819198)

* lock doors and activate Halon based fire suppression.
* keep locked until authorized tag enters, activate fans.

Thanks for remembering that important step

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33822934)

Umm.. everyone has a tag. So anyone in the room can get out.

And you would not use this control in a hazardous situation without safeties.

Like lock power supplies controlled by fire alarm (or halon release) relay in fail safe mode.

Finally has panic hardware on doors. Press the button and it will open after a short delay, but fixed cameras are trained on the door.

Nothing comes before life safety. Worst case is you lose some equipment.

And we know everyone backs up their systems and tests the backups, right?

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816658)

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.

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (1)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822792)

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".

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817626)

    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. It could be done for about $50 to $100 each, plus data service for the tracking, but the device would kind of stand out on a 1u server. :)

Re:don't data centers have poor gps signals and ha (1)

BatGnat (1568391) | more than 3 years ago | (#33819120)

every server room I working in is RF shielded from the outside world. GPS wont work, as they barely working indoors without shielding....

Tried pinging those lost servers? (4, Funny)

loconet (415875) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816376)

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.

Re:Tried pinging those lost servers? (3, Informative)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Tried pinging those lost servers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817938)

Don't forget AS400 in a closet that got plastered over...again still ticking.

Re:Tried pinging those lost servers? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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 :)

Re:Tried pinging those lost servers? (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820466)

It's a shame this was posted AC, and so late in the discussion, because this is soooooooo IT, it's almost archetypal.

Re:Tried pinging those lost servers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33819692)

A friend of mine used to work for an ISP. They had an old reliable DNS server in the corner. The ISP was bought and shut down, but that DNS server is still at the same IP. We just can't figure out where or with who. Still works, but it's in pretty severe need of updating.

The Terminator Decoupling (3, Funny)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816420)

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..."

could work in certain cases (1)

HtR (240250) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816448)

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

All my servers are (1)

bubulubugoth (896803) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816496)

in location: Waiting for satellite...

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

Active wireless tracking (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816510)

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.

Will it... (2, Insightful)

tacarat (696339) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816536)

Find stuff that migrated to somebody's apartment?

Re:Will it... (1)

gsmalleus (886346) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817092)

You could put an RFID reader at all the exits and record any equipment leaving the building...

Re:Will it... (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818014)

they already track the employees that way, equipment is already in place... wait.. move along...

OS/2 server "missing" for 2 years (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816556)

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.

That is sad (3, Insightful)

mevets (322601) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816710)

Its a bit like those Japanese soldiers they used to find periodically on Pacific islands, thinking the war was still on. That poor little OS/2 server, not knowing netcraft had long ago declared victory, and that there was nobody left to talk to it.

Re:OS/2 server "missing" for 2 years (4, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816886)

That's nothing. I once heard of a Win2K server that hadn't been rebooted in over 2 weeks.

Re:OS/2 server "missing" for 2 years (3, Funny)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816976)

Sounds like a submission to "Mythbusters" if I ever heard one!

Re:OS/2 server "missing" for 2 years (2, Interesting)

RubberDogBone (851604) | more than 3 years ago | (#33821208)

For a number of years, the private company where I worked had an unmarked unadorned server in one of our racks. All we knew was that this box belonged to a government agency and it had a network connection and power. All the other ports were blocked and locked off, aside from the VGA-out port which was always outputting black.

What the server did, we weren't told. But the phone would ring immediately if somebody unplugged the network cable. LOL. And occasionally it would receive software updates via courier. We had to load the DVDs into it and wait for the VGA to prompt us to load the next disc. That was all we did with it. The discs were encrypted.

We saw it auto-reboot once and there was an OS/2 boot screen before it went dark again.

Eventually there was a work order to deinstall the box and prep it for pickup. We were never told what it was doing or why it was taken out. Shrug.

Assumes link between inventory and operations (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816712)

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.

It's even worse than that (3, Insightful)

dcavanaugh (248349) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816888)

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?

Re:It's even worse than that (1)

seifried (12921) | more than 3 years ago | (#33819970)

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.

and how often are emergency equipment swaps / repl (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817186)

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?

If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners... (2, Insightful)

Chris Snook (872473) | more than 3 years ago | (#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?

Re:If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816884)

It's not about that, really. It's about jettisoning expensive in-house techs with their pesky 'oral traditions' of knowing where things are. RFID tags make it a lot easier for contractors and "interns" to find kit.

Re:If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners (4, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817562)

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.

Re:If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners (1)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817732)

Let me guess, the server dispenses midol and chocolate.

I'll be here all week!

Re:If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818096)

It "breaks" and you play Excel Doom while you're fixing it.. keeps you a way from the P.M.S. grenade.

Re:If you're too disorganized for barcode scanners (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818068)

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.

poorly implemented... (4, Insightful)

way2slo (151122) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816720)

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:poorly implemented... (2, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816972)

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.

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818446)

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.

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818988)

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 visual inspection again. Because you have to walk up and down the isles anyway.
C) High-power reader. The machine is somewhere on this floor, the floor above, the floor below, or elsewhere in the building. Now you're back where you started.

Of course, this isn't going to help locate "ghost" hardware anyway because even perfect inventory control systems are just that... INVENTORY CONTROL, not computer resource management. Sure, you know that Machine X,Y,and Z are in building 1 and machines I,J,K are in building 2, but you need to audit your resource usage to see if anything is superfluous and just sucking up power.

"Vendors offer estimates, ranging from single to low double digits, on the number of servers either misplaced or working as ghosts"
Surprise! Vendors say that their product is quite important and totally not a waste of money.

Though I do agree with you that putting on RFID can prevent theft. Tags on the boxes, readers on the doors.

Re:poorly implemented... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33819282)

You have the following circumstances:

C) High-power reader. The machine is somewhere on this floor, the floor above, the floor below, or elsewhere in the building. Now you're back where you started.

If you had one high-powered reader, you could tell what direction it's in approximately. With three, you could tell where it is pretty well. With four or five to cross-reference the bearings for accuracy, you'd know just where it is in the building.

We call this game "triangulation."

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820338)

Hehe, if you played eve online you would know that 4 scanners is generally the done thing, so long as the scanners can each give a reasonable guess as to how far away the tag is :)

And they say MMOG never teach us anything useful.

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817042)

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.)

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

omglolbah (731566) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817116)

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 at a plant.

I think people forget one thing when discussing inventory of servers.... the systems for keeping an inventory are already there. Dont invent one yourself, just get a reliable system from a vendor capable of giving you what you want... It hurts me to suggest it but S@P is a decent system for these things.
(Even though we jokingly call it 'the german's revenge for losing the second world war'...)

Re:poorly implemented... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33819436)

As a recent hire to a company that was absorbed by a german multinational in the last few years, I can offer a +1 for SAP.
The interface (or at least the one I'm given) is nowhere near user friendly (literally one step above command line), so learning it has been a real PITA. That being said, it's incredibly comprehensive and powerful, once you've mastered the arcane art of it's use.

Re:poorly implemented... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817414)

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.

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 AND you could physically verify all that hardware exists and was what the records claimed (and, assuming that barcodes were used and actually stuck to the parts they applied to, not, say, the inside of the cabinet door), and finally that all the maintenance people whose compensation relied on network uptime (and not inventory accuracy) kept careful track of what card was pulled out of a given cabinet, what software licenses were on that card (some cell phone network hardware is designed to allow only a certain proportion of the maximum physical capability of the card to be used - you have to buy the right to use your card to full capacity in the form of licenses), and what was installed to replace said card, you will have a mess that none of your CPA and MBA-having managerial staff will know how to fix. Your public auditor states that unless the issue is resolved immediately, they will make your firm take a hit to income for the gear you either cannot find or cannot value correctly of sufficient magnitude so as to trigger the firing of the entire C-suite. Enter the consultants.

I'm still trying to catch up my sleep...

Re:poorly implemented... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817636)

Doesn't need to be that complicated.. When a company is large enough, hardware goes through lots of hands (purchasing, the guys that move it to the right datacenter, the guys that rack it, the guys that actually configure it to run something) that it can get lost if one of those teams doesnt do a proper handoff to the next team.... Over the last year, pretty much once per quarter we would find at least one full rack of machines that was powered on and we never got told it was ready for us to set it up for use (we are the last team in the chain)....

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

OSXCPA (805476) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818502)

It doesn't need to be that complicated, but unfortunately, it was in that case. Logistics and downtime control created an environment where central purchasing was not a requirement - many of the field teams, especially in remote locations, would go to various online subscription-only telecom equipment swap-and-shop sites to ensure a constant supply of spares, replacements, etc. What else can you do when Nokia might end-of-life a set of hardware you rely on in order to force you to upgrade to their newest stack? What incentive is there to put brand spanking new gear in rural Montana, when the three towers you have fill the market needs quite nicely?

You are assuming the company had good controls and processes around purchasing, etc. of fixed assets. They had developed some, but it is impossible to retrofit a comprehensive system of controls to an asset base that covers most of the continental US and spans multiple vendors and (former) corporate entities.

Re:poorly implemented... (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820802)

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 have a good system to keep track of all that then you are fine; if not, it doesn't matter if you acquired something or not - your own, original assets are already mismanaged.

what software licenses were on that card (some cell phone network hardware is designed to allow only a certain proportion of the maximum physical capability of the card to be used

Yes, guess what - you have to keep track of that.

you will have a mess that none of your CPA and MBA-having managerial staff will know how to fix

Of course, and for a good reason. All you need to prevent that is to keep records. Equipment doesn't show up out of nowhere, and it shouldn't be just thrown into a dumpster. If you simply record what was done then someone else, somewhere, will be able to trace the movement of hardware and software. You can run a simple script every night that checks consistency of records and notifies responsible parties about equipment on the move and other loose ends. If the employees (middle managers, not janitors!) can't perform such a simple task then perhaps you need a new set of middle managers.

Your servers aren't likely to move around so much that it becomes a burden. But if you have some really mobile assets, like demo setups or expensive tools or diagnostic equipment in hospitals, all you need is to enforce the "check out / check in" system. Need this signal generator? You can borrow it, just sign here (or swipe your access card.) Now you are responsible for it, and you will be reminded about these assets every day until you return them. It's hard to forget to return something if your inbox is full of those reminders...

Nobody reads the subject (1)

philgp (584302) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816750)

Submitter, type out 500 times: 'I will not type "then" when I mean "than"'

Servers that do not exist? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816870)

Can't wait for the fun explaining the boss that the server that does job X can not be inventoried because it does not exist (virtual).

simple solution, really (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816964)

just virtualize RFID tags. hilarity^Wchaos ensues.

ok, so this would require some sort of RFID <-> network bridge, but just imagine the fun things that could be done with such a device...

The Server of Amontillado (4, Funny)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816882)

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

By John Rendleman
InformationWeek
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.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817084)

I don't get why it took Novell's assistance. Is it really that hard to isolate the server by disconnecting one router/switch at a time until you've isolated the server to one switch? Just continue this method with each cable in the switch until you've located what cable it's on, follow the cable to the server *BAM* found the server. Really how tough is that?

Re:The Server of Amontillado (1)

gsmalleus (886346) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817196)

Is it really that hard to isolate the server by disconnecting one router/switch at a time until you've isolated the server to one switch?

In a production environment where you can't be taking servers or switches offline...

Re:The Server of Amontillado (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817292)

It's a university. Like they can't have a scheduled maintenance a 3AM Sunday to disconnect a router at a time and find the server. A few seconds of disconnection while watching a PC ping for the server isn't going to kill anyone.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817650)

Or just, you know, look at the CAM tables of your switches, and see which port it's plugged into. Like the rest of us do, who can't afford to get in consultants to find a server.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818984)

I never thought I'd say this but mod parent up. If you can ping it you can ARP it if you can ARP it your switch should tell you what port it's plugged into. If your cabling is so bad that such information doesn't help you time to fire your cabling guys.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#33819562)

>It's a university. Like they can't have a scheduled maintenance a 3AM Sunday to disconnect a router at a time and find the server. A
>few seconds of disconnection while watching a PC ping for the server isn't going to kill anyone.

The challenge in University IT is finding someone who cares, no matter what the task, to do it. Something like this would just have to be a thorn in the side of some admin who is bored enough to bother with it.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817526)

Far easier, log into it and get the mac address, then see what switch port it is connected too. Then just trace cable.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (1)

Guido von Guido (548827) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817846)

Far easier, log into it and get the mac address, then see what switch port it is connected too. Then just trace cable.

If they're disorganized enough to accidentally put a server behind a wall, why do you think it's going to be easy to trace a cable? I bet the cabling in that place was an adventure.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (1)

paulej72 (1177113) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818656)

This happened back when everything was connected via hubs for the most part. Try finding out what switch port it is on will let you know what 1/48th of the network it is on. It wasn't long ago that my university finally got switches installed in all of the data closets instead of hubs.

Re:The Server of Amontillado (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817450)

I keep planning to do that on purpose. Excellent physical security.

Effects of L-Space on Real Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817470)

See, servers process so much information that over time, they become sentient enough to be repulsed by all the hentai, scat and amputee porn that pass through their innards. So disgusted are they, that eventually, they will themselves out of our dimension into the "e-Space", a subset dimension of what the great theoretical physicist and visionary, Sir Terry Pratchett calls the "L-Space". There at least, the extradimensional horrors are more tolerable.

FiPrst (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816892)

muncHes the most [goat.cx]

Why not (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33816936)

just put the where abouts in 'finger'?

Re:Why not (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817864)

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

Re:Why not (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33818428)

Sounds like a .plan....

Could have been useful 10 years ago at UNC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816946)

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/04/12/missing_novell_server_discovered_after/

Ah, Netware (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817688)

Netware 3.x in particular (before it got "complicated" with version 4) was famous for being ridiculously reliable. Unless you had a disk failures, uptimes in the years was expected. And since it was in a simpler time and generally didn't need to be connected to the internet, you could let things slide when it came to security patches. Again, aside from disk failures, the most common cause of these boxes needing work was "old age", that is, power supplies and their fans clogging up with lint and hair, leading to overheating.

Audits (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33816952)

"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:Audits (2, Insightful)

aix tom (902140) | more than 3 years ago | (#33820254)

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.

Re:Audits - FAIL (1)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 3 years ago | (#33822822)

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 changes office locations from Peoria to Podunk and he takes his PC, printer, and a few other devices along with him. Maybe his departmental server too - it's so hard to get approval from IT, so just move the stuff and don't say anything. Those RFID tags are short range and won't find anything that's more than 10 feet away.

The joker in the deck is that these unscheduled and unknown moves are taking place all the time - while you're busily auditing, the items you're auditing are getting up and moving around. Each time we audited we'd discover ancient machines in unlikely places that should have been replaced / scrapped years ago. This is just the way things are - auditing IT resources is like nailing jelly to a wall (or herding cats).

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 bit. Keep this in mind next time BSA wants to come audit you...

Done in the 2000's (1)

Saiyine (689367) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817050)

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.

Re:Done in the 2000's (1)

Saiyine (689367) | more than 3 years ago | (#33817100)

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.

Sounds like a good hook for a BofH story (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817120)

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.

Ghost servers (2, Funny)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Post-It notes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33817784)

Put RFID tags on Post-It notes. Do you have any idea how many of those pads walk away and how much they cost?

I Never Cease To Be Astonished (2, Interesting)

grapeshot (1022375) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818002)

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 network switches installed. While we and the mechanical engineers draw plans which show general equipment arrangements, and draw up network diagrams showing how our equipment is to be networked, and we label our equipment and electrical panels, the IT guy typically will typically tell me that yes, he thinks there's a switch around here somewhere I can use, and starts hunting around for it.

In my world, while it is quite possible to build and erect a machine without any prints or plans, any future maintenance or additions to such machines would prove to be doubly expensive since it would require a not inconsiderable amount of detective work to come to understand what exists so that it can be modified or changed. (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.)

It seems to me that creating and maintaining a complete set of documents which map and explain the equipment and network should be adequate, and would prove to be simpler to keep up to date than any sort of RFID system of tying cowbells to servers. Granted, it requires resources and consistent effort, but this has long been the norm in the field of manufacturing engineering. If it works for machines and manufacturing equipment, why wouldn't it work for IT systems?

Re:I Never Cease To Be Astonished (1)

Local ID10T (790134) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818794)

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.

Re:I Never Cease To Be Astonished (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#33819890)

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't matter if the switch is is storage closet 1-B or Bangalore so long as we know exactly what kind of link is between Swtich A and Server B.

Physical mapping is less important because physical distances matter less, well designed bit of infrastructure will have everything labelled and most equipment will be in a server room, MDF (Main Distribution Facility) or IDF (Intermediate Distribution Facility) which for most orgs will be a closet on each floor. The only time physical mapping really becomes important in most IT orgs is linking patches to end points as you need to know where patch A27 terminates when at the patch panel, cable in hand.

If you dont have a logical diagram, as a net admin you're really up a creek.

Re:I Never Cease To Be Astonished (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33821376)

Not our job.

This is just the sort of attitude that permeates IT, to the detriment of the company they serve. No one wants to think about what they are doing. Thinking might get you fired, especially if you draw attention to a Big Problem. Do as your told, and if it's wrong, it's someone else's problem, even if it is an obvious and cascading error that prevents a dozen mere users from being able to do their job for the next two days. Frankley, it disgusts me. (understand, I'm not directing this at you... just the familiar attitude of your first statement that is all too common).

The biggest problem in IT today is ego. It seems Iike everyone in IT is a delicate trembling flower, but also has this bullshit feigned masculine chip on their shoulder... as well as control issues, that they are the best, and the way they do things is the best way, and they are deaf to any constructive criticism or analysis of process. Also, the intramural sports played by IT departments is quite annoying. It seems like every where I contract, they have a drama team.

Re:I Never Cease To Be Astonished (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#33821728)

This is just the sort of attitude that permeates IT, sales, management, admin, financial services, analysts, engineers or pretty much anyone.

There, finished that for you.

Welcome to the modern workforce, try getting a Mechanical Engineer to move a filing cabinet. "Not my job" said the engineer. Why single out IT for this honour, oh yes, that's right IT is an easy target to pick on rather then having to go head to head with those uppity engineers. Frankly (spelling) this attitude disgusts me (not directly singling you out, just the familiar attitude that I encounter as a sysadmin).

Now seeing as your rant missed the point, drawing up a building diagram with all the physical locations on it is not my job because 1) I'm not trained for it, I've done some tech drawing in high school but I'd be fucked if I knew where to start, yes I can do quite detailed network diagrams but not floor plans. 2) It's not that important, if you need a map to find a 24 port switch, something is horribly wrong with your setup.

Now I do help people out (well that _is_ my job) as much as I can, if someone is moving something heavy and I've got time to help I'll offer it. If the receptionist needs help stocking the fridge, I can do it. Hell, I'll even get coffee for people. There have been damn few times where the reverse is true, Once a CEO in a SME got coffee for everyone in the office (about 12 people, rest worked on site) and another time a former syadmin helped me with a serious issue but for the most part end users will do nothing but complain (so I tend to remember the times when people do nice things for me).

Re:I Never Cease To Be Astonished (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33821278)

Planning is really a waste of time. Once you understand how things work around here, [become more familiar with the people and building itself], you'll find it's a lot faster [to just drop the machines according to the email I just printed out for you].

Today was my seventh day on the new job. This is what I was told as I tried to take 5 minutes to organize the tasks set before me. It's hard to soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkeys. Suffice to say, though I am grateful for the work in this economy, I will not be listing this particular job on my updated resume.

CISCO has the answer :) (1)

dialbat (900703) | more than 3 years ago | (#33818076)

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.

Use it to track down IT members as well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33818110)

Where I used to work, their "IT Dude" is always somewhere sleeping.

Would be good to put one on him.

I gave a talk on this topic at ISCA in 2009. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33818130)

From a talk I gave on Manageability at ISCA 2009:

http://3969255347524280195-a-1802744773732722657-s-sites.googlegroups.com/site/masdtutorial/Home/Taliver-Google.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7cpUKrZObrmnpq0PF70-mhH6KjHt-hHOf5vUMzSERjoLjzPP_VFXFj7-ywkc8OJGcHLxWvvyd8jx4hxJl1nexmgGzIoPrb-p-34GuBFLP8FtFys4DTyp7E7KgBtWV2ehbarefRiaOW-KSahx7golh5V2Uu3qVbJpuVxKLx-BwlqvsG86d5e8rKHANl6GwpBFxEqObLTXIdb8IANfINRkZCWUcJZUnw%3D%3D&attredirects=0

Basically, yes, finding things in a big data center is very hard, and people that haven't worked in the environment tend to not appreciate the difficulty.

Other "closet" servers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33818708)

A related class of servers I once found was the old powered down, no longer in use type. Not a big deal until I found that the vendor still happily collecting 7/24 4-hour response time maintenance fees type...

Identify your actual problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33819512)

No system, RFID or otherwise, will compensate for poor asset and resource management.
I work in a factory that, no joke, accounts for each and every inventory item literally down to the nut, bolt and washer level.
We asset tag at the lot (bin of bolts, bag of washers) level. It is considered a Big Deal if a lot goes missing or finds its way to the wrong location.

Easy (1)

headhot (137860) | more than 3 years ago | (#33819956)

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

Technology from 1992 (1)

os10000 (8303) | more than 3 years ago | (#33821636)

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 them in your pocket would hide them. The people tags had rapid updates (few seconds) and the asset tags seldom updates (minutes). It was a voluntary experiment and I estimate 2/3 of the staff had them. Today I'm a privacy zealot.

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