Edge Processing and Device Management + Simulation to die for!

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Quite a title! Can a product have the key things that, as an analyst, you feel sort the wheat from the chaff and be easy to use and not that expensive? Well I think I found just such a product in the RFID middleware arena—GlobeRanger’s iMotion. Over the last year I have had a number of meetings with senior staff from GlobeRanger, culminating with a final briefing with Michael Becker, Director of Marketing and Sales Support, Baldev Nair, VP Marketing and Product Management, and Bryan Tracey, VP Engineering and Chief Architect, at the end of January 2008.

So who are GlobeRanger? GlobeRanger is a relatively small company, founded in 1999 with headquarters in Richardson, Texas, USA. Their Mission Statement says that they are there to provide the most reliable, scalable and flexible enterprise edge software infrastructure at the lowest total cost of ownership. Their current customer base is around 50 with some 100 installations and includes US Department of Defense (DoD) – Defense Distribution Centers, FloraHolland, Daisy Brand and Beaver Street Fisheries. GlobeRanger, on the face of it with no sales offices outside the USA, would seem a typical USA start-up company, but their sales strategy is based on an indirect global distribution model using “best of class” System Integrators (SI), Independent Software Vendor (ISV) and Device Hardware vendors. And boy have they been successful with the ISV community, with Infor, Red Prairie and HighJump all developing their RFID solutions on top of GlobeRanger. They are partners with the major hardware vendors in the market, including Alien, AWID, Intermec, Motorola, Printronix, TI-RFID and Zebra. Their SI partners include Atos Origin, Unisys and Booz Allen Hamilton at the top end with smaller niche partners like CDO Technologies and CACI International Inc.

Ok so what about their product, iMotion? GlobeRanger uses the words ‘edge’ and ‘edgeware’ a lot. So it is important to understand what they mean. Tracey gave the following definition, “Edgeware refers to the edge of the Enterprise. Edgeware provides communication from the EDGE (reader, handheld, etc.) to core applications by translating the raw data coming from the EDGE into relevant business context (intelligence) that can automatically integrate with back-end systems.” The iMotion 5.2 platform has been developed on top of .NET and separates business logic from device management. All device management occurs within the Edge Device Management (EDM) architecture where devices are configured and monitored, while business logic and context is applied within the Edge Process Management (EPM) architecture.

The iMotion platform consists of:

  • Edge Device Manager: supports an array of edge devices such as fixed and handheld readers, printers, motion detectors, light and temperature sensors, LED displays, voice recordings etc, and provides support for RFID devices and other devices, such as barcode scanners, light stacks, photo eyes and handheld computers.
  • Edge Process Manager: interprets edge events in a business context, providing the critical link between edge devices and business applications.
  • Event Workflow Editor: iMotion expresses business logic as Visual Event Workflows. Workflows are created by selecting business logic components from a palette, dropping them on a canvas, and connecting them to indicate event processing flow.
  • Visual Device Emulator: allows the user to simulate and test tag ID read events by emulating the placement of readers, antennas and binary devices without having to actually deploy those devices.
  • iMotion SDK: includes abstract classes and Microsoft Visual Studio extensions, so as to create Workflow Components.
  • Visual Management and Monitoring tools: iMotion includes a set of visual tools for configuration and monitoring of deployed solutions. They include the Edge Management Console (EMC) and Monitoring Dashboard.

GlobeRanger has also developed a number of add-ons to the RFID Middleware:

  • The GlobeRanger SAP-AII Solution Accelerator acts as an RFID Device Controller and a Device Orchestrator for the SAP Auto-ID Infrastructure (SAP-AII). It conforms to version 2.1 of the SAP AII-DC Interface (SAP AII-DC 1.0) specification.
  • The GlobeRanger Federal Solution Accelerator was designed to speed-up the development and deployment of solutions for automating RFID-enabled processes as tag commissioning, inventory management, shipping – receiving reconciliation, and reporting needs, as specified by the U.S. Federal Government.
  • The GlobeRanger Mobility Platform supports various fixed and wireless communications modes to connect with remote devices. Capabilities such as store-and-forward, automatic switchover, guaranteed message delivery, and encryption and compression (for security and economy) provide support for RFID deployments with mobile read points.

So why have I waxed so lyrically about GlobeRanger at the start of this article? For a small company, they have a real understanding of the role of RFID middleware and how the evolving standards can be implemented effectively. iMotion is simple to use and takes very little training for an IT-literate person to be productive quickly. For Microsoft developers used to Visual Studio and BizTalk, it is easier still. iMotion provides very good support for EPCglobal standards and is particularly strong in its implementation of ALE (this may not be surprising as they were heavily involved in the development of this standard).

The Visual Device Emulator is, in my opinion, the best on the market at this moment of writing—in fact it is the jewel in GlobeRanger’s crown. It not only means that hardware decisions can be delayed so the software can be written and tested before any physical upheaval occurs, but in certain cases the Emulator could be used to prove a business case without having to do a full proof of concept!

The other real key is they understand the need to empower the edge. The edge of organisations—retail outlets, warehouses, factories, offices—have their own events and processes, some of which are important to the main business processes but not all. Where there is a connection, the edge still needs to maintain an independence from the centre so that it can still operate even if the communication network is down. iMotion not only provides support for the management of devices at the edge but, critically, also provides support through the Edge Process Manager for the management of processes at the edge. In Bloor’s view RFID middleware architecture is not complete without both device and process management at the edge.