Sun ushers Java into RFID readers
And by pushing tasks such as RFID tag data filtering and processing to the edge of the network, the new software also frees enterprise servers of network congestion. "All this complexity needs to be handled at the edge of the network," said Kevin Ashton, marketing VP for RFID reader maker ThingMagic Inc. The company demonstrated Sun's latest software on one of its readers at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco. Reader makers Intermec and SIS Technologies also are working with Sun to load the software on their RFID machines. Being able to run Sun's Java software on a reader helps to reduce the cost of supporting RFID infrastructure, said Sean Clark, director of RFID Solutions at SIS. Running on SIS' Mustang appliance, the software "creates a self-healing network where downtime is virtually eliminated, leading to a more significant return on investment," Clark said. For enterprises, RFID is most valuable when it is being run as close to real time as possible, said ThingMagic's Ashton. With even the fastest network, there still is latency in sending and processing data from an RFID reader to a server, he said. On first pass, saving a few seconds by running RFID middleware directly on a reader does not seem significant. But for large-scale RFID operations, even a slight delay in processing data can be costly, Ashton said. Real-time processing matters, for instance, when there are two RFID readers close to each other in a delivery bay in a warehouse. Since RFID readers operate in just one segment of the radio spectrum, when they're close together they cannot run simultaneously because of interference. So often they are synchronized to operate alternatively. If each machine reads 100 RFID tags per second, yet it takes half a second to coordinate with a network server, an enterprise would lose 25% processing time. Sun's RFID software also would run on any kind of appliance that collects sensor information. For sure, Sun is eyeing emerging sensor applications such as smart labels, which provide more information than RFID tags. Smart labels may also record a product's temperature or physical coordinates, for instance. "Potentially, we see Java getting onto sensor platforms in the future," said Vijay Sarathy, director of RFID product marketing and strategy. "It's an area that Sun is working on today with Java." The new software supports upcoming RFID standards, including EPCglobal Generation 2 (expected to become the global RFID standard), and EPCglobal Application Level Events, or ALE, for data processing and filtering. At a JavaOne booth yesterday, Sun's software was running on ThingMagic's Mercury4 reader, which is fixed reader about the size of a pizza box, designed for retail and defense RFID applications. The Mercury4 reader also runs Linux. With Java now running on the reader, software developers now have a "new range of possibilities," Ashton said. This matters because RFID software architecture is in its infancy and still emerging, he said. "What we're seeing is that the more flexibility we're offering the end user and their [software] integrator, the easier it is for them to tailor their architecture to what they need." Given the "broad" developer community for Java, Ashton said J2ME "brings in another level of developers" to RFID applications. ThingMagic does not yet know whether is reader would cost more being loaded with the Java software. "That's something we have to resolve with Sun," Ashton said. Sun's newest software also comes in a Java SE (formerly Java 2 Standard Edition) flavor for desktops, which is available now. The Java ME (formerly Java 2 Micro Edition) that runs on readers is slated for release later this summer. Both versions integrate with the enterprise version of Sun Java System RFID Software, for centralized monitoring and management of large numbers of distributed devices.