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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.
Jul 19, 2010—RFID 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.
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).
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