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RFID surge prompts Oracle to unveil sensor-based services plan

Oracle Corp. formally unveiled a new product/services initiative last week, along with what amounts to what some observers call a new product category built to more easily adjust to changing retail technology needs. Officials said the recently formed Sensor-Based Services Program lets the Oracle application server and database systems "capture, manage, analyze and respond" to data gathered from radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, bar codes and other "sensor" technologies.

Observers note that Oracle is hardly new to this space -- the company has been managing information gathered from bar codes with its warehouse management system for years. But the advent of RFID, with its potential to spread like kudzu among a wide range of industry segments, put a spotlight on this technology niche and the need to integrate sensor-based information into enterprise systems.

"Enterprises need to lay out a long-term strategy for dealing with RFID to support everything from RFID-enabling existing business processes today to transforming the business with RFID-centric processes of the future," Jeff Woods, principal analyst at Gartner Inc., said in a statement. "Even with the radical changes envisioned by RFID-centric business processes, a lot of the technology to power these processes is already inside the enterprise."

Oracle launched the Sensor-Based Services Program in January to coordinate the company's efforts to provide management tools for the growing number of companies accumulating silos of this type of sensor data.

"We just needed a central place to think about these solutions," Allyson Fryhoff, VP of Oracle's Sensor-Based Services Program Office, told ADT. "RFID is one type of sensor that companies are going to have to deal with in their environments, but in many cases, they're already dealing with a variety of sensors that to date have produced silos of information on things like location, temperature, moisture, motion, etc. With sensor-based services, Oracle is introducing the capability to correlate and coordinate all of the information coming from sensors and, in particular, RFID."

Oracle plans to build sensor-based services into its Database 10g, Application Server 10g, Enterprise Manager 10g and E-Business Suite 11i products. The company expects to have RFID data-processing capabilities bundled into upcoming releases of its database and app server by this summer. According to Fryhoff, the next release of Oracle Application Server 10g will enable out-of-the-box integration and device management for all RFID readers. It will also include new edge services designed to capture and filter data read from readers and sensors before being passed to a common data store to be analyzed and distributed to all business applications. Current users of these products will receive the new services in an upgrade at no charge, Fryhoff added.

Oracle disclosed those plans last week during the RFID Journal Live Conference in Chicago, joining rivals like Microsoft and IBM in the race to provide infrastructure support for RFID, a data collection technology that uses electronic tags to store identification data and a wireless transmitter gun to capture it.

Fryhoff said Oracle also plans to offer some deployment tools for companies adopting RFID or other sensor technologies, including a Compliance Assistance Package designed to help companies comply with recent mandates from Wal-Mart, the Department of Defense, Metro, Target and others. The package provides a pre-built application coupled with services to enable rapid deployment. The company will also offer an RFID Pilot Kit, which gives companies exploring RFID and sensors prototype-testing capabilities. The kit will come with drivers for leading RFID readers, reporting capabilities and advanced business intelligence tools, she said.

Oracle is developing its own device driver framework to help companies administer and build application software for their RFID systems, Fryhoff said. And it is also working with RFID reader makers, including Alien Technology and Intermec Technologies, which are developing their own drivers to work with the Oracle products.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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