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Imation Intros RFID Tracker

RFID-based tape tracking system comes on heels of Sun deal; security concerns surface

Imation has taken the wraps off a RFID-based removable tape cartridge tracking system, in a move that raises questions about the technology's data center potential. (See Imation Intros Tape Tracking.)

Due to ship in April, Imation's DataGuard rf includes Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags for LTO, DLT, 3590, 34x0, 9x40, 3592, and T10000 tape cartridges. Tagged cartridges are scanned via a mobile reader or pad. A special carrying case holds up to 20 cartridges, which can be scanned inside the case. Imation uses VaultLedger tape management software from B&L to track the RFID-tagged cartridges.

For now, DataGuard rf can be used to log in a tape cartridge at a start location, then log it in again at a destination site. If the records don't match, you've done an Iron Mountain! (See Iron Mountain Marches On and Smoke Clears for Iron Mountain.) However, in the "early second quarter," Imation plans to deliver an integral GPS system that will automatically track tagged cartridges.

No beta users were available to comment on the product, Imation said, and pricing hasn't been set. But a standard kit containing RFID hardware and B&L software will sell for "under $40,000," according to Tim Bjork, Imation's market development manager, Americas region.

Imation isn't the first vendor to work with RFID as a data center inventory tool. HP did live tests on a RFID-based asset tracking system last year. (See Can RFID Unwire Data Centers?) But Tim Osbeck, operations and technical support manager at Meijer, a Grand Rapids, Mich., retailer that tested HP's prototype, hasn't heard a peep from HP about the system since.

"We did a proof of concept for ninety days... I liked the trial," Osbeck says. The system he used tracked the physical location and configuration of several hundred Windows servers. "You could determine a server's physical location and certain asset information. You could tell if a rack was opened and by whom," he recalls. But HP hasn't gotten back to him regarding followup, and the vendor acknowledged there was no further progress to report at press time.

Indeed, it looks like Imation may have a first here. "It's certainly the first to make it to market," says analyst Dianne McAdam of the Clipper Group consultancy, noting that challenges of RFID include creating tags that are sturdy enough for inventory applications. "It makes an awful lot of sense to me. Companies are facing challenges like disclosure of lost data on tape, which can be a public relations nightmare."

Why is Imation focused on tape? McAdam says she wouldn't be surprised if Imation moves its RFID tracking to disk in the future, but for now, demand exists for tracking tape. "The fact is, the majority of customers are concerned about transporting tape in volume," she says.

There are concerns about RFID. Some say it's an insecure technology that can be easily ransacked. At the Black Hat security confab last month, for instance, a RFID vendor and security analyst collided on issues regarding the clone-ability of RFID signals. (See Black Hat Cancels RFID Demo and HID, IOActive Butt Heads Again.)

Imation says it would be tough for a third party to tell what information is on a cartridge even if the volume and serial number (volser) information were known. On top of that, the volser label on the RFID tag is encrypted once it's read by the scanner, the vendor says.

On the plus side, if DataGuard rf takes off, it could be a boon for Imation. Case in point: Following the RFID announcement, Imation announced a deal with Sun to distribute Sun's full line of data storage media, including all StorageTek products. When asked whether Sun would extend the agreement to incorporate DataGuard rf, which will be sold by Imation directly at first, Sun spokewoman Michelle Parkinson had this response: "Imation has a very good RFID solution. Though we haven't made any definitive decisions, Sun is always looking at ways to deliver more value to our customers."

If Imation can prove the value of DataGuard rf, things could get more interesting.

— Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • B&L Associates Inc.
  • The Clipper Group Inc.
  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)
  • Imation Corp.
  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)