Taking on RFID Challenge

Middleware vendors look to manage deluge of new data.

Software developers TIBCO Software Inc., WebMethods Inc., Oracle Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are each preparing IT infrastructures to handle the flood of data thats expected to be generated by massive radio-frequency identification deployments.

While the plans of each differ, many focus on the core elements of data management and integration with current database and ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.

For one IT manager considering RFID integration, middleware is the way to go. "We want to choose a piece of middleware that is standard and compliant with everything else weve done," said Bryan Cafaro, CEO of Tri-Bry Corp., in Hoboken, N.J. Cafaro manages IT for Alco Industries Inc., which, as a supplier to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., faces a deadline for adding RFID support.

TIBCO this summer will announce two technologies to ease data integration and data management. RFID Agent, expected next month, enables users to intelligently route RFID data to different areas of an enterprise IT environment, officials said.

Event Cache, due in June, provides a repository that lets users capture and query RFID data, where it can then be stored in memory. Event Cache stores data more efficiently than it would be stored if it is pushed into a database, said TIBCO officials in Palo Alto, Calif.

Data beacon

RFID profile on the rise


Said that this year, either RFID would be a major business driver or they would start an RFID initiative


said their single biggest concern with RFID is integration


said tags are the biggest problem with RFID


said software is the biggest problem with RFID


said they believe the technology to be overrated

Percent of 275 respondents working in the packaging industry Source: Cap Gemini Ernst & Young LLC

WebMethods, of Herndon, Va., this month will announce an interface to VeriSign Inc.s directory software that lets users confirm that product information theyve entered into EPCglobal Inc.s Electronic Product Code Network is accurate before it is sent to back-end applications. That builds on WebMethods recently released RFID Starter Kit, which provides its Integration Server for linking RFID data to ERP applications.

For its part, Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., aims to let customers grab RFID data in its Oracle Database 10g and integrate it into ERP applications using Application Server 10g. The next release of the application server, due this summer, will offer out-of-the-box integration and device management for RFID readers.

Taking a different tack, Microsoft this week will announce the formation of its RFID Council, which will include supply chain software and computer hardware vendors, as well as professional services provider Accenture. The goal of the council is to build functionality into its partners offerings and stronger links to Microsofts SQL Server database and BizTalk integration products. The result should be better handling of RFID data, according to Microsoft officials in Redmond, Wash.

"As you access this data from a standardized format ... it all needs to be routed into business applications," said Javed Sikander, program manager for RFID strategy at Microsoft. "Before that, [companies] need to make decisions outside of the business application, so Microsoft integration—BizTalk Server —with Web services is playing a major role. It is essentially the middleware solution that we are working with partners" to implement into RFID solutions.

"We are in the process of finalizing those functionalities and making some decisions" regarding new functionality, said Sikander, in Redmond, Wash.

Microsoft also announced it has joined RFID standards body EPCglobal.

However, not all manufacturers are rushing ahead with their RFID plans.

Cafaro has backed off his RFID campaign because Wal-Mart has stepped back on its mandate for suppliers to be RFID-enabled by this summer.

The main delay in moving forward with RFID implementations is a debate about emerging standards, he said.

"There is a fear that movement too quickly [on the technology front] could lead a customer in a position that the RFID they committed to might not be a standard everywhere in the world," said Cafaro. "Thats very important for someone like Alcoa, who deals mainly in China."

Cafaro said integration technology is key to Alcos success with RFID. Still, hes choosing carefully.

"There is going to be new information and new processes [with RFID], and thats why were careful. We dont want this to be an untamable animal; we want this to fit in with everything else we do," said Cafaro. "If you dont select the right middleware, I can see [RFID information coming into the system] being very difficult to handle. Without our already existing methods of handling data, it would be outrageous."