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Sun Shines Light on EPC Initiatives

Sun Microsystems announces enterprise RFID software and partnerships to help businesses deploy RFID systems.
By Bob Violino
Sep 24, 2003By Jonathan Collins

Sept. 24, 2003 – Until now, Sun Microsystems, an early supporter of the Auto-ID Center's Electronic Product Code initiative, has been quiet about what EPC products or services it would offer. Last week, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based computer maker unveiled its enterprise Auto-ID initiative.

Sun plans to offer a Java software layer that filters data from RFID readers, gathers information about products associated with the tags, and passes the information along to enterprise applications. The software is based on Savants developed by the Auto-ID Center. Savants are distributed software agents that act as the central nervous system of the EPC Network, the Auto-ID Center's system tracking products moving through the global supply chain.

Sun's Heyman
Sun provided Java programming expertise to the center to help develop the original Savant software. "We have long opened our research to the Auto-ID Center," says Dirk Heyman, global head of life sciences and consumer products industry at Sun. Heyman is also chairman of the Auto-ID Center's Technology Board. Sun has added functionality on top of the basic framework developed by the Auto-ID Center. Other companies, including OAT Systems, are also offering enhanced Savants.

Sun plans to begin marketing a complete RFID solution for large companies. It will provide its own Sun Savant Software and Sun One Integration Server for the IT infrastructure. The package also includes hardware, middleware and software applications from a long list of partner companies that Sun says are required to deliver enterprise scale RFID deployment.

Sun's partners include tag and reader maker Alien Technology, middleware vender ConnecTerra, network service provider Verisign, and software application companies Manhattan Associates and Provia Software.

"Companies are looking for someone to pull together all the components for a full-scale RFID implementation," says Vijay Sarathy, Sun's enterprise marketing manager. Sun's answer, he says, is a "federated service architecture," which draws products and consulting from a number of technology partners.

Sarathy says Sun Savant software will enable dynamic provisioning of software components across a distributed network. The architecture is designed to have a "self-healing capability" so that if a server routing RFID data goes down, data can be rerouted on the fly.

Data from Sun Savant feeds into the Sun ONE integration server, which will be responsible for formatting data collected from the RFID readers in a consistent manner and then making the data available to other applications. Sun has formed a new Auto-ID business unit, headed by Julie Sarbacker, to promote this RFID architecture.

Sun has been testing the software and servers in its own manufacturing operations. Both Sun's Scotland and California manufacturing plants are piloting RFID to track parts in inventory. "Like any company deploying RFID, we realize you have to start small," says Scott Hickman, Sun’s senior director of industry and strategy and development manufacturing.

The pilot projects are to help determine if RFID can increase efficiency in the factory by improving inventory visibility. Sun says it's looking to extend its limited RFID project to some of its suppliers, although no time for that has been set.

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