As part of an anticipated string of RFID pacts, Sun Microsystems has begun working with SeeBeyond on an RFID middleware solution targeted at the retail market—an industry long a strong suit for Sun archrival IBM.
The upcoming retail solution is one of several RFID (radio frequency identification) reference architectures that Sun is eyeing for vertical and horizontal markets, Roger Nolan, senior director of Web services integration at Sun Microsystems Inc., said in an interview with eWEEK.com.
“Sun will also be teaming up with many other partners on [the RFID reference architectures],” Nolan said.
Known so far only as Suns “joint RFID solution,” the co-created retail reference architecture will be implemented among retail stores by Sun and SeeBeyond, as well as by SeeBeyonds third-party SI (systems integration) allies. SeeBeyond Technology Corp. and some of its outside SIs are highly experienced in retail deployments, Nolan said.
Like other reference architectures under way at Sun, the new solution complies with emerging EPC standards from the EPCglobal group, Nolan said. The EPC specs are being implemented by retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Albertsons as well as by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The retail solution will combine Suns directory management and identity management services with SeeBeyonds capabilities in areas ranging from BPM (business process management) to back-end Web services integration.
“More and more all the time, RFID is about identity management,” Nolan told eWEEK.com.
As with other RFID reference architectures now being mapped at Sun, the bottom of the stack will revolve around RFID tag readers, which will scan tagged items and transmit the information to Suns Event Manager. Event Manager will filter and aggregate the RFID data, Nolan said.
In one previously unveiled RFID reference architecture from Sun—geared to enterprise RFID implementations, as opposed to retail—the data is sent from Event Manager to Suns own EPC Information Server.
But in the new retail-targeted architecture, information flows instead from Event Manager to the SeeBeyond RFID Composite Application Network, for distribution to outside trading partners and enterprise back-end systems such as those by Oracle and SAP, Nolan said.
Along the way, Suns Java System RFID Software will process the data and integrate it with SeeBeyonds RFID network.
SeeBeyond, a longtime partner of Suns for Java, has meanwhile started collaborating with Sun on a non-RFID implementation revolving around a set of prebuilt portlets. The portlets will be aimed at quick enterprise development of portals featuring business integration, BPM, workflow and composite applications.
In contrast to the RFID solution, the portal solution will not be specially geared to retail. “The portal solution is much more of a horizontal play,” Nolan told eWEEK.com.
Also, unlike the out-of-the-box portal solution, the RFID retail solution will require custom integration services, he said. The portal solution will use Suns Java System Portal Server in conjunction with SeeBeyonds ICAN 5 integration server.
Nolan declined to give expected delivery dates for either the portal or the RFID retail solution. “But the portal solution will be sooner,” he said.
But Sun does expect to start showing the retail solution at its RFID test center in Dallas “within a quarter,” according to the Sun executive.
Nolan said he thinks the emerging RFID retail reference architecture helps put Sun in excellent standing versus its competitors.
“Were way ahead of IBM, HP and Microsoft [on RFID], because we already have the products,” he told eWEEK.com.
IBM has been particularly active over recent months in an RFID implementation at the Metro department-store chain based in Germany.
Hewlett-Packard recently announced plans to team both with BearingPoint, an SI, and RFID middleware maker OATSystems on RFID implementations for retail. But HP will go it alone in RFID markets such as manufacturing, automotive, and oil and gas.
For its part, Microsoft has rolled out a pilot with Danish snack foods maker KiMS, as well as the start of a full-fledged deployment with Jack Links Beef Jerky, another snack food maker. Microsoft is partnering with SAMsys Technologies and three other IT companies in the Jack Links project.
Nolan told eWEEK.com that Sun and SeeBeyond have already done preliminary integration and interoperability testing for their forthcoming RFID retail solution. But further integration work still lies ahead, he said.
Sun has been working with CPG (consumer packaged goods) maker Gillette for more than two years now, in Wal-Mart field tests and in other trials, Vijay Sirathay, Suns group marketing manager for RFID, said in an earlier interview with eWEEK.com.
SeeBeyond has about 20 retail customers for various sorts of software and services implementations, including Target, The Gap, Trader Joes and Sainsburys, according to information on SeeBeyonds Web site. Financial, manufacturing, government and health verticals are also targeted.
SeeBeyond works with about 30 service partners, too, including giants such as Accenture, Capgemini, EDS, Deloitte Consulting and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.