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Opening Up the Network

Open-source simulation software will enable the RFID community to help develop and learn to use the Internet of Things.
By Abel Sanchez
Dec 12, 2007—which combines RFID technology, the Internet and EPCglobal standards—allows businesses to track tagged goods through the global supply chain. In the future, when the Internet of Things becomes commonplace, RFID data will be stored in millions of repositories worldwide. The volume of data and number of messages, connections and applications within the EPCglobal network infrastructure is certain to raise challenges to the scalability, security, extensibility and communication of current IT infrastructures. Several architectures for EPCglobal network infrastructures have been proposed. The Auto-ID Labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in partnership with SAP, has designed a simulator to provide an objective measure of comparison and guidance for architecting a scalable and secure network.

The simulator models a multitiered supply chain; the tiers represent manufacturers, wholesalers, distribution centers, retailers and others, each with an arbitrary number of facilities. Each facility can track goods and share data with supply-chain partners, so, for example, it can simulate thousands of retail stores communicating with thousands of distribution centers.

While we use the simulator to build a scalable and secure network, it's important for companies and organizations that are using RFID to learn how key EPCglobal network standards perform together. To that end, we have developed open-source simulation platforms—or prototyping software—that leverage what we call Mentor: an open-source stack of EPCglobal software standards including Low Level Reader Protocol (LLRP), Tag Data Translation (TDT), Application Level Events (ALE), EPC Information Service (EPCIS), Object Name Service (ONS), electronic pedigree and several variations of a central registry.

We are also developing specific industry models to allow companies within that industry to work with their supply-chain partners using EPCglobal network standards. A model for the pharmaceutical industry should be ready in the first quarter of 2008.

In addition, the MIT team is working on a graphical user interface (GUI) to enable rich simulation scenarios. GUI users will be able to customize simulation parameters such as security, registries, volumes and pedigrees. Advanced users can utilize the software's scripting language and/or source code to extend the base scenarios and add any desired component, plug-in, storage or engine.

To help the RFID community use the simulator and Mentor, we are producing a series of publications. The main book is a practical, hands-on guide that includes the common application scenarios, architecture guidance and a wealth of source code samples.

We invite the RFID community to join the simulation environment (go to www.autoid.mit.edu). Academics can use the simulator as an experimentation platform. Companies and organizations that do not have EPCglobal network software can use Mentor for free. By working together, we can build a scalable and secure Internet of Things that can deliver benefits to millions of companies in a wide variety of industries.

Abel Sanchez is a research scientist at MIT's Auto-ID Labs.
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