Microsoft has long talked about its RFID strategy but has had little in the way of actual products.
Thats about to change with a small point release of BizTalk Server 2006 that will be available to users the first half of 2007.
At the U Connect 2006 Conference for supply chain management in Nashville from June 6 to 8, Microsoft announced June 6 BizTalk Server 2006 R2—a relatively speedy release given BizTalk upgrades usually come around once every two years and BizTalk 2006 was released in March.
The R2 versions biggest upgrade: RFID capabilities that include a new set of services for developing and managing RFID software.
“The RFID technology that Microsoft has said its building—this is the first time were announcing it from the product perspective,” said Burley Kawasaki, group product manager for BizTalk Server, in Redmond, Wash.
“Its how you take real-time events…and link those back to business processes.”
In 2004 Microsoft announced the development of an RFID Partner Council that included 60 vendors from the RFID software, hardware and services sector.
The councils goal: to look at Microsofts options for building out RFID-based software.
On Feb. 17, 2005, Microsoft announced its “momentum” around RFID, discussing an RFID middleware platform in the works, but without nailing down details.
Functionality, at the time, was said to focus on device abstraction, data modification and data transformation.
“We have 110 people looking under the hood [of the RFID development platform] and have given them a very detailed view of all the modules, how they can interface with the product that will give them an ecosystem,” said Javed Sikander, group program manager for RFID strategy at Microsoft, during a February 2005 interview.
“But were not allowed to talk about the unusual capabilities we are building today.”
Now dubbed BizTalk RFID, the new set of tools and software capabilities within BizTalk will let users build RFID-based software and configure RFID-driven processes.
It includes device abstraction and management capabilities really aimed at the hardware layer in RFID, letting users manage and monitor their device infrastructure.
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An event processes engine helps users to create business rules as well as manage events around RFID.
As with much of its current products under development at Microsoft, BizTalk RFID will integrate with other Microsoft technologies.
A tight integration with Visual Studio, along with open APIs (application protocol interfaces), will help developers integrate RFID events with business applications.
At the same time, R2 will have more support for Microsoft Office 2007 and Windows Vista—particularly WinFX technologies Windows Workflow Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation, which will allow developers to tap into existing processes and expose them as a Web service with WinFX.
At the same time, Microsoft is launching a new adapter framework with R2 that sits on top of Windows Communication Framework and exposes a line of business connectivity to any .Net developer using WinFX.
The idea with the adapter framework is to enable developers to build customized adapters to support interoperability between applications, according to Kawasaki.
“Were putting in place a standard device layer that can work with a number of different vendors; we work with a large set of vendors in this space that support our hardware layer,” said Kawasaki.
“We also have a set of rules technologies that help process and filter events, and ultimately correlate back to a process.”
The R2 version of BizTalk Server 2006 has some additional capabilities that help users link events to processes (and processes to applications).
Native support for EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and AS2 (the Internet version of EDI) will be added to help facilitate data sharing with partners and customers.
When asked whether Microsoft would look to its other technology platforms—.Net or SQL Server, for example—to launch additional RFID capabilities, Kawasaki said the company is still researching its options.
“Were not announcing any specific packaging or licensing; at this point were releasing [RFID] with BizTalk Server,” said Kawasaki.
“There are ways we might package or think about this in the future. We do know we need to address unique scenarios with our partners, and were trying to get feedback on that. Were close to working out details later in the year.”
Early previews of the technology in BizTalk Server 2006 R2 will be available to customers and partners that participate in Microsofts R2 TAP (technology adoption program).