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A Primer on Types of RFID Middleware

This essential article defines three broadly-understood categories of RFID middleware and the vendors that participate in each category.
Aug 09, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 9, 2006—The traditional and most commonly held view of RFID middleware is software that interfaces directly with RFID devices (readers, printer/encoders), filters and formats read data, and passes it to another software application that uses the input to drive a decision or complete a transaction. Well-known vendors in this category include Acsis, GlobeRanger, IDVelocity (since acquired by NCR), OATSystems, and SkandSoft. These products are often marketed as "frameworks" and may also support bar codes, sensors and other types of input. Traditional RFID middleware also often offers some degree of device management, such as remote monitoring or configuration. Many systems integrators have developed similar offerings that they use in projects but don't market separately or offer through resellers.

Some enterprise integration software and middleware can also process RFID data. The best known is IBM's WebSphere product family, which RFID reader manufacturers including Alien, Intermec and Symbol offer bundled with their hardware. Other vendors best known for their enterprise IT systems who also have RFID middleware include BEA Systems, Sun Microsystems, TIBCO, VeriSign and webMethods.

Middleware appliances have emerged as an alternative to traditional RFID middleware that sits on a server or is installed on the reader itself. Appliances are software-hardware hybrids that filter RFID input, route and synchronize data to various applications, and provide control over readers. They are installed between readers and enterprise systems. Depending on the vendor, appliances may be on the edge of the network or further back. In one case, the appliance is part of the LAN infrastructure itself. The appliance category of RFID middleware is small, but it includes a big name. Here's a closer look at these vendors and their products.
  • Blue Vector Systems makes "Integrated Sensing Stations" that process RFID and other input and route it to appropriate enterprise and B2B applications. Its Edge Managers can accept input from RFID and bar code readers, electronic scales and a variety of sensors, including temperature, proximity and motion sensors. Each Edge Manager can accept input from up to 12 devices, and manages communication between data collection devices and Blue Vector network management products. The system can be used to process data from a single location or throughout an enterprise.
  • Cisco Systems created an RFID-specific product and supporting software for its Application Oriented Network (AON) technology. AON is a major Cisco initiative to better link applications and networks. AON for RFID embeds RFID middleware functionality into Cisco data center switches and branch office routers. Modules can be installed at the RFID network edge or more centrally at data centers. Cisco also addresses device management with the Wireless Location Service, which can track the locations and status of thousands of RFID tags, devices and other wireless devices over an 802.11-standard wireless LAN.
  • Omnitrol Networks combines middleware, device management and networking functions in a single box. Each OMNITROL device can process input from RFID readers, bar code scanners and sensors, and provide monitoring and management for these devices. Raw data is filtered and converted to XML or SOAP formats for output to enterprise software. Omnitrol also offers its own software applications and services that can be loaded into the device. The box has Ethernet network connections and can serve as a Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g) access point.
  • Reva Systems offers the Tag Acquisition Processor (TAP), which sits above an Ethernet switch or wireless access point and passes filtered RFID tag data to enterprise applications. Networked RFID readers (the "Tag Acquisition Network" in Reva's terminology) send their raw data to the switch or access point, which passes it to the TAP for processing. The system can also be used to process RFID data provided by a trading partner through a VPN or other portal. TAP can output data in a variety of protocols, including EPC ALE, Java Message Service (JMS), SAP's Auto-ID Infrastructure (AII) and SQL.
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