Inside the broadcast booth
Building an RFID infrastructure means programming not only custom software using ALE but also the hardware interfaces of RFID readers. Thus, for all but the smallest of deployments, this is no easy task. A much better option for streamlining integration and ensuring data integrity is to use the variety of middleware tools and platforms now available from a number of vendors.
On the forefront of RFID network management, Sun Microsystems released a major update in February: Sun Java System RFID Software 3.0. The package comprises Sun Java System RFID Event Manager, Sun Java System RFID Information Server, a developer kit, and a management console module.
The Information Server provides reader support and application query services, while Event Manager tackles event processing to filter and smooth data input. Most importantly, the package delivers excellent distributed fail-over, something that's crucial to the zero-downtime tolerance of RFID.
The new version includes APIs that address reader and printer functionality. Another highlight is the addition of Java ME (formerly J2ME) support, for embedding intelligent processing directly onto devices, an excellent next-step advance into building smart readers and appliances capable of interconnecting with automation devices throughout the warehouse without centralized server control. In addition, Sun has included support for both ALE and the EPC-IS (EPCglobal Information Services) interface for RFID data exchange among trading partners, as well as support for SAP's AII (Auto-ID Infrastructure).
A component of SAP's NetWeaver application, AII offers mySAP Business Suite customers straight-through integration of RFID data, which is useful in supply-chain, warehouse, and inventory management app-lications. AII includes good event management features and support for the range of legacy and modern devices, including bar codes, PLCs (programmable logic controllers), and Bluetooth devices. Other tools, such as the Auto-ID Cockpit, help warehouse managers drill down into active processes to monitor state and location status of orders.
Support for SAP's Auto-ID Infrastructure is also available in the recently updated RFID Anywhere 2.0 package from iAnywhere, a Sybase subsidiary. This package delivers a middleware platform similar to that from Sun, including both Site Manager and Component Manager modules, although it lacks the capability for on-device deployment.
This basic offering will be insufficient for enterprise-grade projects, however. These customers will need to upgrade to the full Sybase RFID Enterprise 2.0 package, which bundles the RFID Anywhere software with tools for event management, data analysis, and full-on business process integration. This SOA-supporting combo delivers good developer perks, such as Microsoft Visual Studio extensions for generating shell code, RFID network simulation tools, and the capability to interface with a variety of interrogator interfaces, proximity sensors and controllers, and legacy technologies.
Looking to broaden its install base, SAP recently announced a partnership with Intermec, an RFID device manufacturer, to target small and midsize customers with affordable RFID solutions. There are a number of other key middleware players in the market as well -- such as early trailblazer ConnecTerra, recently acquired by BEA -- and IBM, with its WebSphere RFID Premises Server and device-embeddable layer.