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Create an RFID-Ready Architecture
Turning massive amounts of data into operational intelligence means addressing the new challenges that radio frequency identification and sensors present.
by Peggy Chen

June 15, 2005

Many organizations that are focused on the rush to meet radio frequency identification (RFID) compliance deadlines—Wal-Mart, Metro Group, the United States Department of Defense, Best Buy, and Target, to name a few—are deploying RFID slap-and-ship pilots. Although a standalone slap-and-ship system might be the fastest way to meet RFID mandates and the most economical short-term solution, if you don't consider architectural and integration issues, you might find yourself dealing with an integration nightmare with multiple silos of fragmented information.


You will undoubtedly be collecting more and more data once RFID and other sensors are deployed in your organization. All your enterprise applications will ultimately integrate and leverage this data. You must consider the impact of RFID across your entire technology stack, not just the locale where RFID readers are being deployed (such as the warehouse).

Consider the analogous case of bar codes. The use of bar codes is now widespread—from supermarket and department store items to self-service postage labels, return material authorization notices, and tax returns. And, software applications and infrastructure have evolved to support them. Whereas bar codes usually identify the type of product, RFID tags uniquely identify a particular asset or item. The ramifications of RFID tags on enterprise software infrastructures are bound to be much wider than that of bar codes.

Therefore, you need to understand how the flow of RFID and product data will work throughout your enterprise systems, and ensure that your architecture will be ready to support these new sensor-based computing and event-driven paradigms as requirements for new applications emerge. This article takes a look at some key challenges RFID presents and discusses how you can turn them into a sustainable advantage for business and IT.

Capture Data From the Physical World
Increasing visibility into your supply chain depends on an accurate view of where your assets have been, where your assets are now, and where your assets are going. You also need to know the condition, status, and state of every asset. Getting a comprehensive view of what is happening in the physical world of your organization requires capturing data from not only RFID readers but also other types of sensors, including temperature, humidity, shock, location, and more.

For example, consider the shipping of pharmaceutical drugs or perishable goods that have to be kept at a certain temperature. Tagging such medications and foods with RFID tags and temperature sensors enables constant monitoring. Tagging these shipments with active Global Positioning Systems (GPSs) enables them to be definitively located. The data from all the various tags and devices could be transmitted across wireless networks using wireless fidelity (WiFi), Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), and other technologies, including peer-to-peer networks. Collecting this data and processing the information has its own unique challenges.

The challenge for the IT department is building an architecture that has the flexibility to integrate with any sensor or device, as well as capabilities to filter events at the source, route events to applications that need to consume them, and provide generic event-processing capabilities for processing streams of RFID or sensor data into business events. The new breed of RFID edge middleware that provides device abstraction and event filtering needs to be well integrated into existing enterprise architectures (EAs). This provides enterprises with the most flexibility for developing and deploying RFID and sensor-enabled applications.

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