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Dispelling RFID Network Performance Concerns

You can add RFID and maintain network performance—without redesigning your infrastructure. Here's how.
By Michael Crane
Aug 14, 2006Many people think about RFID in terms of tags, readers and middleware, overlooking the importance of the network infrastructure transporting data through these RFID system components. The result is a widespread misperception that RFID will slow critical business applications by clogging the network with massive amounts of tag data. In fact, basic RFID implementations add minimal data to the network, and you can easily improve performance in larger systems by fine-tuning the network foundation.

A quick solution for complying with an RFID business mandate might include a few preconfigured readers and printers, prepackaged software for label generation and an advance shipment notification (ASN) application that runs on a PC or router module. One Cisco customer fulfilled a compliance mandate for an introductory RFID system with one reader, one printer and some middleware to route and filter traffic at the network edge.


Like other customers with small RFID implementations, this customer tracked material at the pallet and case level. Without the high volume of data generated by item-level tags, the RFID data added minimal network overhead and other network-dependent applications were not affected. The only network requirement was a single LAN segment with three Ethernet ports—one for the printer, one for the reader and one for the middleware server.

This approach is adequate for basic RFID procedures that are not fundamental to the overall network architecture. To gain value from RFID that transcends mandate compliance, however, you'll need to integrate your RFID system into your enterprise network architecture.

Network Guidelines
If you have identified applications with enough ROI to support a more comprehensive implementation, you'll need to address the basic network considerations of availability, performance and security. By addressing these issues in the network foundation, you can create a solution that delivers RFID data whenever and wherever business requirements dictate, while maintaining enterprise-wide application performance.

Availability planning starts with an architecture that eliminates single points of failure along the network path the RFID data will travel. RFID vendors generally recognize the benefit of RF redundancy at a dock door, and you can extend this concept throughout your network to protect against a wide variety of component failures. Examples of redundancy at the network level include dual data paths and port-level redundancy on network switches.

Once a high-reliability network path for RFID data is in place, the next step is giving RFID data a suitable network priority for the business application. For some basic compliance applications, timely delivery of RFID data does not offer a sufficient ROI to warrant special network consideration. In other applications, RFID data delivery is mission-critical and cannot tolerate delay. For example, a sophisticated RFID solution might be linked with an intelligent routing system that sorts packages as they move down a high-speed conveyor. With the conveyor moving at 600 feet per minute, delays can result in material moving past its intended destination, potentially affecting customer shipments and adding routing time and cost.

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