In the budding radio-frequency identification industry, several top-tier IT providers are jockeying to become the RFID infrastructure leader.
Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and Sybase Inc. are each developing architectures or middleware that will provide a standardized method for moving data from an RFID tag reader into a back-office ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, where it is processed and analyzed.
"All RFID is, is data collection ... a way to take a set of products that have numbers and location [associated with them] and, through RFID, scan those tags and ... then a summary is moved up into ERP," said Jim Jackson, CIO at Montreal-based Intertape Polymer Group Inc. Jackson is working with vendors and customers to identify applications for RFID.
Sun is developing about half a dozen reference architectures, or blueprints, that detail a four-layer stack for large-scale RFID implementations that include middleware, hardware, services and partnerships. The first of the vertical-specific blueprints, expected in about six months, will be a reference architecture for enterprises that operate in a geographically dispersed manner and synchronize RFID data in a single location, said Sun officials in Santa Clara, Calif.
The architectures will be similar to Suns EPC Network Architecture, developed with EPCglobal Inc., which manages the Electronic Product Code standards that support RFID. At the bottom of the four-layer stack are tag readers that scan tagged items and send the data to the second layer, Suns EPC Event Manager middleware. Event Manager filters and aggregates streams of tag, or sensor, data.
The third layer is Suns EPC Information Server, which can connect Event Manager to ERP and other back-office systems. The top layer, Suns EPC Information Servers, provides repositories that hold and disseminate product information.
Meanwhile, IBM is working on industry-specific business processes—best practices for such tasks as administering received goods for retailers—some of which it will package with its WebSphere middleware and release this fall.
The first two layers in IBMs RFID process stack define filtering tags that connect to back-end systems and specify functionality around simple business logic and analysis that could be used with a specific process.
A third layer combines multiple inputs from various lower-level systems, according to IBM officials in Armonk, N.Y. The fourth layer is the actual back-end applications—an area IBM points to as an opportunity for ISVs to develop intelligent applications that do things such as instance tracking.
Sybase, at its TechWave user show in Orlando, Fla., this week will unveil what it is calling its RFID Solution, which officials at the Dublin, Calif., company said will bridge the gap between the RFID reader and the enterprise database. Sybase is working with AeroScout Inc., of San Mateo, Calif., to build an RFID tracking solution that combines AeroScouts real-time discovery tools with Sybases middleware and data management technology. The joint RFID offering will be able to discover RFID devices and provide an environment to incorporate business processes to control information assimilated by RFID.
Intertapes Jackson, who previously worked with RFID technologies as a distribution consultant, said he will not look to big technology vendors.
"I dont think anyone has [RFID infrastructure needs] figured out and can continue to make it flexible enough to suit any one companys needs," Jackson said.