Sun Boosts Support for RFID

New business unit dedicated to helping Sun customers, partners develop software and hardware solutions for the use of RFID.

Another major enterprise IT vendor has further embraced the move toward using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in manufacturing and retailing.

Sun Microsystems Inc. this week announced that it has formed a business unit dedicated to helping customers and partners to develop software and hardware solutions for the use of RFID. At least one piece of new software is already slated for release in March to help bolster the effort, officials at the Santa Clara, Calif., company said

Sun is calling the new group the Auto-ID business unit, in reference to standards work occurring in the Auto-ID Center, a consortium of 100 corporations and six research universities promoting the use of RFID.

During its first Electronic Product Code Symposium being held in Chicago this week, the Auto-ID Center unveiled the first release of the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network, a set of technology specifications and requirements for using RFID as an identifier in products so they can be traced throughout the supply chain. IBM also launched a service at the show to help companies put RFID into place.

With its new business unit, the company is working to develop full product sets—including hardware, software and services—in conjunction with partners to allow enterprise to link into the EPC Network and use RFID, said Julie Sarbacker, named the director of the business unit. Programs for both customers and partners should be launching within the next couple months, she said.

Sun has been working with the Auto-ID Center since 2000 and is involved in pilot projects for using RFID technology in product tracking.

Through RFID, manufacturers could embed RFID tags with a miniscule computer chips and antennae into products to better track their movement through the supply chain. The tags, often inactive themselves, respond with identification information when radio waves are sent to them from readers that could be in a store or warehouse.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software at Sun, made the decision to form the group, Sarbacker said.

The time had come for a business unit to focus on RFID issues as companies begin piloting and planning deployments of the technology, Sarbacker said. Most notably, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in June said that its 100 top suppliers must use RFID tags in products pallets and cases by January of 2005.

"The market drivers are happening now," she said, "Especially with the Wal-Mart mandate, thats putting a lot of pressure on the top 100 suppliers."

Sun already has previewed its own version of Savant, an EPC Network middleware technology for managing the flow of RFID information between the readers of RFID tags and back-end enterprise system, said Vijay Sarathy, product line manager for Sun Auto ID infrastructure solution. Suns Savant software is based on the EPC Network technology but adds features for quality of service and dynamic provisioning of resources so that RFID information could still flow despite a reader or back-end computing resources failing.

Sun plans announce the release of its Savant software in March, he said.

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