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RFID Middleware: To Embed or Not to Embed

Although deploying RFID readers with embedded middleware may seem like an affordable simple-to-implement choice, server-based RFID middleware may be the better option.
By Mayank Shridhar
Jul 19, 2010RFID middleware, the layer of software that enables enterprise applications to leverage radio frequency identification by integrating them with data received from RFID devices, is rapidly evolving into a commodity, as the market for RFID technology becomes commonplace across different industries.

The three primary functions of RFID middleware can be broadly classified as device integration (that is, connecting to devices, communicating with them in their prescribed protocols and interpreting the data), filtering (the elimination of duplicate or junk data, which can result from a variety of sources—for example, the same tag being read continuously, or spikes or phantom reads caused by interference) and feeding applications with relevant information based on the information collected from devices after properly performing the appropriate conversions and formatting.

There is a gamut of players in this space—from RFID-focused startups to large software product vendors. More often than not, RFID middleware products from established software giants necessitate the additional installation of numerous prerequisites or dependencies. For instance, the middleware could demand the installation of a database and an application server, as well as queuing and exchange technology, and perhaps even an operating system from the same vendor, thereby skyrocketing the total cost of ownership (TCO) from a licensing perspective.

Hence, RFID is being considered by many organizations as a means of increasing revenue from their existing products, rather than actually solving their clients' specific business problems. Such RFID middleware products can make the overall installation very heavy—that is, difficult to deploy at edge locations, such as warehouses, that may lack powerful servers to support such an infrastructure—and the increased number of licenses for every setup would thus prevent the middleware user from attaining an adequate return on investment (ROI).

To counter the need for separate RFID middleware, some vendors launched smart devices that have an operating system as part of their firmware, encapsulating an embedded middleware framework within itself. Some smart devices also come with integration capabilities, such as built-in adapters for communicating with enterprise products, such as SAP AII/ PI, Microsoft BizTalk, JMS, MQ or databases. These devices greatly reduce the TCO of owning separate RFID middleware, and often appear to be an attractive option for organizations adopting RFID.

By deploying RFID readers with embedded middleware, a company can reduce the time-to-market and TCO of that deployment, since there is no need for a separate site-server to locally host the middleware (and its dependent products) at each site. What's more, certain middleware-like functions, such as filtering for duplicate reads, can also be performed on the device itself.

There are, however, a number of potential drawbacks to employing devices with embedded middleware. While such smart devices will gradually increase their processing power and available memory in the future, their capabilities do not currently match those of server-class machines. Therefore, if middleware functionality is added to a device, it could potentially slow down the speed with which it actually reads a tag, thereby making it difficult for that device to track fast-moving objects (cars at toll gates, for instance).


Patrick Sweeney 2010-07-19 11:06:07 AM
Embed for performance and cost savings - if it's mission cri After over 300 RFID projects (http://tinyurl.com/300RFID) we've learned a lot about middleware. Our team has deployed scores of different middleware packages and determined that the only way to get 99.9% read accuracy and lower the server infrastructure (as Mayank correctly points out) is to embed software on the readers. Embedded edgeware offers several advantages over server-based or managed service middleware: 1) Much higher accuracy due to greater device control & configuration management 2) Lower total cost of ownership, less servers to maintain and manage 3) Higher availability because it eliminates a single-point of failure (the middleware server or managed server) 4)Lower bandwidth requirements and cost, and because processing is done locally no latency on GPIO commands - like alert lights, or switching conveyors 5)Better remote diagnostic capability RFID readers have become so much more powerful that embedding the edgeware on the reader can increase performance because there is no latency controlling GPIO or making immediate decisions. Server based middleware or managed services are only as good as the high speed connection getting the control responses, and even then only get a portion of the reader capability via network. ODIN's EasyEdge is a great example of what is possible when you work hand-in-hand with the major reader manufacturers to get the most out of performance and the lowest possible cost. Edgeware should make your existing application like SAP, Maximo, or Oracle more valuable. After all, you've invested millions in those, why pay more for a specific RFID software? For best performance and cost savings go with an embedded operating system on the readers that is EPC compliant and you'll get accuracy and cost savings. Many of the Fortune 100 corporations are using ODIN's EasyEdge (http://tinyurl.com/EasyEdge).
Andrew Smith 2010-07-20 10:54:46 AM
Embedded is difficult at times I work in the IT department of an FMCG company in the Asia/ Pacific region. We also have operations in Europe. We had used RFID for tracking some of our shipments with select retailers, and had jumpstarted it with different devices in Asia and Europe, both having embedded middleware (I can't take the names of the vendors). They worked well in the POC stages but later we realized that we were facing problems with scalability because our IT department was having difficulties maintaining multiple versions, and we also needed customizations to be done based on a few firewall constraints that we had in some areas. One of the vendors (in Asia) had agreed to doing the customizations whereas the other vendors refused, stating it as infeasible. We realized that the maintenance cost for the embedded middleware was also going higher than expected. Finally we used a server based middleware and we hired an IT services provider to do the customization for us, and it was easier for us to manage. This is just personal experience that I thought I would share, because I'm aware of some of the challenges with embedded middleware.
Reader 2010-07-20 01:00:19 PM
Informative article! Thanks for this informative article. last paragraph very well summed up. I am working in an IT company and have worked in an RFID middleware product. I feel middleware is the way to go if 1) external integration is expected to happen 2) Vendor agnostic server application is desired.
B Lynch 2010-07-22 05:18:01 PM
Try Distrix Using Distrix software by Spark Integration (www.sparkintegration.com) for integration now. project costs dropping by orders of magnitude. Frankly, projects we could not get done before are getting done in a fraction the time with Distrix. Very small footprint and best of all no need to adhere to one vendors standard.
Reader 2010-07-24 11:15:06 AM
Excellent Read Very interesting and informative article. Great Work!!
Mayank Shridhar 2010-07-31 09:26:38 AM
Thanks Thank you, everyone, for your valuable comments. My viewpoint here is that embedded middleware helps speed up the deployment and offers low cost, however when a lot of scalability and flexibility in processing logic is desirable, then a server based middleware is the way to go. It also enables the organization to not become vendor-dependent.

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