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Which RFID Middleware Is Best?

A new report from Forrester evaluates 13 software providers to determine whose solutions offer the best features for today, and tomorrow.
By Jonathan Collins
Sep 01, 2004In a new report evaluating RFID middleware vendors, Forrester Research says that while smaller players may offer the best of the few RFID middleware products available now, it will be the middleware’s ability to integrate with yet-to-be launched applications that will prove critical.
Forrester's Leaver

The report, “Evaluating RFID Middleware,” rates RFID middleware players and potential entrants within two broad studies. The first study evaluated current offerings and compared their potential for early adopters today; the second looked at each vendor’s ability to offer features essential in broad, long-term RFID deployments.

Many companies are currently working to deploy RFID to meet upcoming mandates from customers such as Wal-Mart, Metro AG, Albertsons and the U.S. Department of Defense. As those companies rush to meet those deadlines, they are deploying software from a range of vendors. But companies also need to ensure that the software they are deploying can eventually fit into a single enterprise-wide architecture.

“Companies today are deploying RFID at the plant level, not the enterprise level, and that makes it reasonable to have products from multiple vendors. But in the long term, they will need a middleware architecture, not middleware products,” says the report’s primary author, Sharyn Leaver. Leaver is a vice president and research director at Forrester, which is based in Cambridge, Mass.

The report evaluates 13 present or future RFID middleware suppliers and finds that those that lead the way today are likely to face increasingly stiff competition from vendors such as SAP, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft that will provide that middleware architecture.

The software vendors covered in the report fall into four broad areas: RFID pure plays ConnecTerra, GlobeRanger, OATSystems, Savi Technology and RF Code; application vendors Manhattan Associates and SAP; platform giants Sun Microsystems, IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft; and integration specialists webMethods and Tibco Software. Provia Software and RedPrairie were compared with the others in the report because their RFID middleware functionality relies on software from two companies already included—namely Sun and RF Code.

The report concludes that for companies deploying RIFD systems now, Manhattan Associates, OATSystems and SAP provide the best middleware features such as reader integration, data filtering and EPC track-and-trace tools.

A key reason Forrester chose those three vendors was their middleware’s ability to integrate RFID deployments installed today into larger, enterprise-wide RFID integration in the future. “Companies can deploy Manhattan Associates or OATSystems now, and then integrate multiple plants into larger IBM or Oracle architectures in the longer term,” says Leaver.

Some RFID middleware vendors, like GlobeRanger and ConnecTerra, also offer viable solutions today for early adopters, but incorporate less packaged application logic such as EPC track-and-trace tools. Others, such as RF Code and Savi, have more specialized capabilities related to transportation, security and asset management applications, according to the report.

But it is the platform giants that are set to become the major players in the RFID middleware space by providing the capability to deliver an enterprise-wide architecture as well as the integration and business process management that will become essential in RFID deployments, says Forrester.

According to the report, SAP will then lead the pack of RFID middleware vendors, owing to SAP’s history of developing both middleware and applications combined with its RFID experience. IBM's and Oracle's planned flexible, multitiered architectures also show promise for broad deployments.

Forrester expects that during the coming months, Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft will release their RFID-specific solutions targeted at vertical markets deploying RFID. The report maintains, however, that after they do, the market will still support a wide range of RFID middleware vendors. “It’s a myth that as the big guys win, the small guys go away. There will always be a market for smaller RFID middleware players that will complement larger players’ offerings and support markets that the larger players cannot, ” says Leaver.

That means companies like OATSystems and Manhattan Associates that do not offer platforms that support centralized, enterprise-level integration and data management will partner with larger firms such as IBM, Oracle, webMethods and Tibco, so that their specialized products can be deployed within larger integration and data management solutions, says the report.

Priced at $299, the 22-page report is available at www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,34390,00.html.

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