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Profile: Sun Turns Up the Heat

Four years after becoming the first technology company to sponsor the Auto-ID Center, Sun Microsystems says its focus on network computing and peer-to-peer EPC platforms will beat out the competition.
By Jonathan Collins
Nov 17, 2003—As many large technology vendors eye RFID deployments in the supply chain as a new source of revenue, Sun Microsystems believes it has the technology and expertise to get a jump-start on its rivals. The santa Clara, Calif.-based company, which had $11 billion in sales for the year ended June 30, built its business around its core Unix systems and software. Its products run may Web sites, and the company’s slogan is: "the network is the computer." Sun maintains that its heritage enabled the company to immediately see the potential of RFID. In particular,

Jonathan Schwartz
Sun was drawn to the Auto-ID Center's Electronic Product Code (EPC) initiative and the center's promise to create an "Internet of things" by tagging all goods and devices with an EPC number that uniquely identifies the object.

"We believed that everything connected to an electricity supply would be connected to the network," says Jonathan Schwartz, executive VP for Sun Software, the unit responsible for the company's software development and sales. "Automatic identification proves that objects don't even have to have electricity [to be connected]."

Sun's belief in the potential benefits of RFID goes hand in hand with its confidence that it can profit by selling the computers needed to handle the crush of information that will stream in from RFID tags, cell phones and many other connected objects. It is also developing specific EPC software products and a business model for partnering with RFID software and hardware suppliers.

The company likes to point out that back in 1999, it was the first technology vendor invited to become a member of the Auto-ID Center, which was established to develop the standards and basic software needed to create a new network for tracking items using low-cost RFID tags. Sun provided the center with free use of its software developer kits—primarily Java—as well as access to software architects and additional support to aid in the development and testing of EPC technology. Sun also says it donated 60 percent of the hardware and software, some of it custom developed, used by the center to create the EPC platform. Dirk Heyman, global head of life sciences and consumer products industry at Sun, became chairman of the Auto-ID Center's Technology Board, which has overseen the technical development of the EPC standard.

Sun’s involvement with the Auto-ID Center has closely tied the company's technology to the development of the EPC network. Java programming expertise helped the center develop the original Savants—software that gathers, stores and acts on information collected by RFID readers and manages the flow of data in an EPC network.

Sun also believes its connection with the Auto-ID Center gives the company an advantage when it comes to developing and providing its customers with an EPC-based RFID deployment. "Sun stands out [from other IT vendors] because our experts were involved in MIT and the Auto-ID Center from the start," says Julie Sarbacker, director of Sun's auto-ID business unit, which was recently formed to focus on the development and sales of EPC-related products and services.
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