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A Guide to RFID Middleware

Here's what you need to know to choose a cost-effective solution that delivers business value.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 05, 2010—Radio frequency identification systems often require middleware—software that resides between RFID interrogators and enterprise software. Middleware serves a number of key functions: It configures and manages your hardware, such as interrogators, printer-encoders and motion sensors, so they operate optimally. And it processes tag data, filtering out duplicate tag reads and aggregating the data that's passed along to back-end applications.

Early RFID middleware resided on a computer server and included basic reporting tools. But technology innovations have brought about changes in both areas.

Illustration: iStockphoto
Today, middleware can run on a dedicated computer at each facility where RFID interrogators are deployed, on each interrogator or on a networking appliance where the technology is used. These solutions are often called "edgeware," because they're deployed close to the edge of the network—at, for instance, a manufacturing facility or distribution center. Middleware can also be deployed at a data center with a wide area network (WAN) to communicate with the readers. There are pros and cons to each deployment option, says Ken Traub, founder of Ken Traub Consulting, which advises end users on RFID software architecture and standards strategy.

Also, improvements in RFID technology mean there's less need to focus on using middleware to boost reader performance and more discussion on how it can bring business value to end users, says Alan Sherman, director of marketing for middleware vendor OATSystems (a division of Checkpoint Systems). Now, many middleware vendors offer applications designed to help end users in specific industries or with particular use cases mine value from the data they collect.

In fact, middleware has evolved so much that many RFID vendors don't even refer specifically to that term on their Web sites. Instead, some point to their platforms, while others discuss how to manage an RFID infrastructure or data flow. Almost all the vendors' home pages highlight industry applications and solutions.

Considering that software is essential to an RFID system—some call it the central nervous system of an RFID platform—it's no surprise the market has mushroomed. In addition to middleware vendors, many RFID systems integrators, such as ODIN and Xterprise, have developed their own software solutions.
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