Bloor Research has just released a technical report and market update covering RFID middleware. But what does this mean?
RFID middleware is the first level of software that one comes across in the complete RFID stack. This software performs the necessary tasks of converting the information picked up by readers, event processing, applying business rules, performing a series of functions from aggregations and filtering to looking-up data that converts this data into meaningful business information. Of course it also has to co-ordinate he management of the readers and the writing of data onto the RFID tags.
Many flavours of RFID middleware are currently available. A number of start-up companies typified by OATSystems, GlobeRanger and RF-it Solutions have developed solutions. The EAI vendors, such as IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and SEEBURGER were very quick to adapt and enhance their offering to support the requirements of RFID middleware. Traditional RFID middleware also often offers some degree of device management, such as remote monitoring or configuration. A number of application vendors have developed RFID middleware. In this case there are two distinct approaches:
- Build it yourself: in this category are vendors such as SAP and Manhattan Associates
- Build on top of a middleware product: in this category fall vendors such as Infor, 3M Supply Chain Solutions and Red Prairie
RFID Middleware Architecture
Figure 1 shows the architectural model that Bloor sees as necessary to support all of the requirements.
Figure 1: The Bloor Sensory Network middleware architecture 2008
The components of RFID middleware include:
- Device Management, in a RFID/Sensory Network sense, is about activating, configuring and controlling the peripheral devices in the network, be these mobile or fixed. This includes routines to distribute applications, data and configuration settings to these remote devices
- Edge Event Process Management is concerned with an environment for the development of business processes usual through BPEL, a runtime engine with an associated API, and a management environment (often referred to as business activity monitoring - BAM). Simulation is a key deliverable.
- Business Rule Management System (BRMS) is a software system used to manage and support the business rules of an organisation. The main class of BRMSs maintains rules that are executed in a production rule system but also maintained in a repository with a user interface suitable for business users to create, read, update and delete them.
- Integration is concerned with the ability to interface to the back-office applications that run enterprises. In the main this facility is provided by another product in the portfolio.
- Device API is where the information collected on the devices, such as RFID readers or barcode readers is translated into business information. The device API is used to disconnect the devices from the implementation in the RFID middleware itself, in such a way that you can "hot-swap" devices.
- A development environment which should interface with standard development environments such as Microsoft Visual Studio for .NET and ECLIPSE for Java. The key is for IT developers to be able to work in a familiar environment and to be able to exploit these existing tools. The same is true for business users but here the tools they are most familiar with will be Microsoft Office Suite or other office suites.
- Master Data Management capability to support EPCCIS
Since Bloor published their first list of vendors in December 2007, there have been some additions to the list as well as some departures. The departures include 2 well-known names: TIBCO and SoftwareAG webMethods.
There are 3 vendors who are offering a repository (really a master data management database) to support the EPCIS standard. These are IBM, Oracle and SAP. There are a number of new entrants (SkandSoft's Setu, Omnitrol Networks, Supply Insight) who are also providing support for EPCIS but without seeming to use a repository.
The market is also seeing the entrance of a number of combined software and hardware solutions, particularly in terms of network boxes. For organisations that are cost conscious, combining RFID middleware on to existing network routers is a very compelling consideration. There are 3 key vendors offering solutions in this space: Cisco Application-Oriented Networking (AON) for RFID; Reva Systems Tag Acquisition Processor (TAP); and Omnitrol Networks.
Because SAP's AII solution provides no device management capabilities, a market of specialist products from niche vendors has grown up to provide this capability. Two that caught Bloor's eye were: Advanco SA of Belgium's Advanco RFID Controller (ARC); and noFilis Ltd of Germany's CrossTalk.
The final market trend is the support for mobility. Microsoft made an announcement at the beginning of May 2008 and others already there are Allixon Corp with their URUS mobile RFID platform and NoFilis CrossTalk.
Vendors researched for the paper include:
The technical report and market update can be downloaded free of charge from www.bloorresearch.com. There are also a number of product evaluations available on the site.