Big vendors vie for RFID dollars

With a blitz of new radio frequency identification (RFID) products ready to ship, major platform vendors continue to bolster their efforts to make sure the wireless tracking technology is ready for corporate users to deploy.

Next week, Sun is expected to announce an upgraded version of its RFID middleware. Sun Java System RFID Software 2.0 features improved management tools designed to help users keep tabs on distributed sensor devices, along with built-in provisioning capabilities that let customers prioritise critical RFID-based processes.

Sun's news comes after a string of RFID-related announcements from Oracle, including a development partnership with Intel. Oracle is also teaming with RFID appliance maker, Xpaseo, to offer an integrated software and hardware package for managing RFID deployments.

Sybase has also unveiled middleware designed to help companies incorporate data collected by RFID devices into business applications. RFID Enterprise bundles a range of data management, integration and analysis components, and includes hooks to a product Sybase subsidiary iAnywhere Solutions announced in February for RFID device management.

These vendors' latest product releases share an emphasis on enterprise-quality data management and integration - features that early adopters of RFID in supply chain settings are beginning to require.

At the same time, RFID adoption is gaining momentum outside retail and consumer goods industries, in areas such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace and defence. The growth is bolstering RFID technology-spending projections and enticing big IT vendors to deepen their RFID investments.

HP, IBM, Microsoft and SAP have added steadily to their RFID wares over the past several months. Most recently, SAP in March announced a program aimed at making RFID technology accessible to small and midsize businesses. SAP is teaming with a handful of RFID vendors to add automated data collection, wireless warehouse management and RFID data integration features to its Business One suite for small and midsize companies.

For its part, IBM last fall announced a five-year, $US250 million investment to support a Sensor and Actuator Solutions division and 1000 IBM employees working on RFID software, services and hardware projects.

Microsoft through its Business Solutions division is building RFID capabilities - including reader management and data translation features - into business management applications such as Axapta 4.0, Navision 5.0 and the next major release of its Great Plains software.

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