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Microsoft Previews RFID Infrastructure

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Microsoft this week followed IBM and Oracle in publicly committing to delivering infrastructure software to support radio frequency identification (RFID) scenarios.

Senior vice president of server applications Paul Flessner gave a preview of Microsoft's .NET-based implementation of RFID infrastructure software during a keynote at the Microsoft TechEd 2005 show here. "I think you should expect it in the 2006 timeframe," he said.

RFID uses transponder tags to send data to a remote receiver/decoder, allowing tagged items to be tracked from a distance. Customers who see the most value in the technology tend to be in industries that move a lot of physical items through warehouses, factories and retail stores.

"The intent is to reduce the complexity and cost of integrating and managing RFID data in a company,” according to Flessner. “Seamless integration of sensor data with applications and business processes through easy-to-use tools at low cost is a big step forward for companies justifying a strategic investment in RFID technologies.”

Microsoft executives describe the current market as primarily consisting of niche players who create entire solutions to meet a vertical industry need. Each of those solutions consists of the RFID reader appliances; the server middleware that translates, interprets and routes the data; and the vertical industry-specific application that end users interact with. Where Microsoft sees a role for itself is in replacing the custom-coded middleware stack that handles similar tasks in nearly every RFID implementation but tends to be written separately for each solution.

Those middleware tasks include accepting data from the RFID devices; translating the device data formats into a format the business application can understand; and triggering events and messages. Solution providers can also let Microsoft worry about thorny data quality problems common to many RFID implementations. As an example, Microsoft's Steven Martin says, "How do you manage duplicates -- 50 reads on a single box of toothpaste?"

There are three ways Microsoft's RFID technology will hit the market, says Martin, group product manager for Microsoft's Business Process and Integration Division.

First, Microsoft hopes to license the technology to vertical industry solution providers, saving them the trouble of writing their own middleware application code so they can focus their development resources on the business application.

Second, Microsoft will ship its RFID technology in its own Microsoft Business Solution products. Essentially in that case, the MBS division will be like any vertical industry solution provider -- inserting Microsoft's common RFID technology into their vertical-specific business applications. Microsoft will start that wave with an Axapta release next year, Martin said. Other logical applications in the MBS portfolio for RFID-enablement are Navision and Great Plains, he said.

Third, Microsoft will license the RFID middleware as a server product available to enterprise customers who want to build their own custom business applications using RFID. Packaging and pricing hasn't been determined, Martin said.

Becky Nagel contributed to this report.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.