Sybase Gives RFID a Persistence Layer

As the RFID market begins to inch beyond the early-adopter stage, companies are noticing that the swarm of tiny devices unleashed in their warehouses is generating valuable data that should be integrated and managed with the rest of their enterprise info.

“There’s a real need in the enterprise to persist the data,” says Chris Foley, director of RFID at iAnywhere Solutions. “We have yet to speak to a customer who didn’t say to us, Where do I save the data? I need X amount of data for the real-time interactions and processes, but I also want to be able to take the next step a month from now, or a week from now, and do some reporting and analytics on this data.”

A case in point is Cesar Castillo Inc., a mid-size consumer products distribution center in Puerto Rico that manages inventory, distribution and logistics for pharmaceutical manufacturers. The company puts RFID tags on individual inventory items and barcode shelf sites to electronically capture item location and quantities during receiving, stocking and shipping. The technology reduces human error and improves inventory control, says Dr. Rafael Moreno, the company’s business development director.

But the RFID system the company implemented—Sybase’s RFID Enterprise—is designed to provide more than zippy inventory control. It adds the missing persistence layer, without which the data gathered can’t be managed, mined and minted into business intelligence. The product will give companies like Castillo “a deeper level of visibility and understanding of business events,” says David Barrack, senior director of worldwide solutions at Sybase.

In combination with the middleware product, it makes it possible to gather and process RFID data from heterogeneous devices at the point of action, and to integrate RFID information with enterprise applications.

RFID Enterprise sits on top of, and extends the capabilities of, the RFID Anywhere middleware product, launched earlier this year by iAnywhere Solutions, a subsidiary of Dublin, CA-based Sybase.

RFID Anywhere is based on technology from XcelleNet, a maker of device management software for mobile databases and wireless devices that Sybase acquired last May and rolled into iAnywhere. The product includes connectors and controllers designed to handle the interfaces with commonly-used RFID hardware components, such as readers and printers, freeing developers and integrators to focus on business logic instead of the code-level complexities of evolving devices and standards. RFID Anywhere has been upgraded since its initial release with additional functions, including message storing and forwarding and support for multiple ISO and EPC RFID standards so that an RFID network can aggregate RFID data into a single format.

RFID Enterprise sort of picks up where RFID Anywhere left off. It comprises a management interface that can be used for RFID readers, bar code scanners, RFID printers and real-time location services; a database schema and persistence layer that stores data necessary to maintain the business context of the data; a visual design environment for creating business processes and monitoring the data via Web-based dashboards; and a reporting tool.

“RFID Anywhere takes us to the next tier,” Foley says. “We can now legitimately tell people that we have an end-to-end solution that competes against many of the large platform vendors that you see getting into the RFID space.”

These are still early days in the RFID space, and at least one recent study suggests that current adopters of the technology are still influenced more by price than features and functionality. In his report, “Making RFID Middleware Decisions in a Changing World,” AMR research director Dennis Gaughan writes: “Early RFID adopters are struggling to find the balance between low-cost deployment and long-term investment protection…. Price continues to be a major factor for companies with initial RFID deployments....”

Gaughan expects to see consolidation among RFID middleware vendors over the next several years.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].