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HP & BEA Tag-Team on RFID

HP has teamed up with middleware vendor BEA Systems in an attempt to sell its storage systems into enterprises wrestling with the data demands of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) deployments. (See HP, BEA Team On RFID.)

IT managers are currently bracing themselves for a data explosion caused by RFID devices, as firms start deploying the technology, which is touted as hardier, easier to implement, and more flexible than barcode scanning. (See RFID Rocks Back-End Storage.) So it's no surprise to see storage vendors look more closely at the market possibilities.

Speaking on a conference call this morning, Frank Lanza, worldwide director of RFID services at HP, explained that the BEA partnership lays the foundation for joint offerings based on his firm's services and BEA's WebLogic RFID middleware. This, he added, opens the door to potential storage sales. "We see an opportunity," he said. "RFID technology brings more data to the table [and] companies will have to find ways of dealing with that."

But the exec admitted that even HP, which is using RFID to track its own product parts at a distribution center in Memphis, Tenn., is unsure about the long-term data implications of the technology. "A lot of us don't know how much data we will need to store over time," he explained, with retailers, in particular, still working out how to RFID-enable their supply chains.

A number of big-name firms, such as Wal-Mart, have already strong-armed their top suppliers into deploying RFID. Boekhandels Groep Nederland (BGN) has also revealed that is using the technology to track the movement of individual books at one of its stores. (See Dutch Bookstore Rolls Out RFID.) Other organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, are also increasing the pressure on their IT partners to deploy RFID.

RFID works by using tags on a specific product or package, which emit radio signals. "Reader" devices then pick up these signals, enabling the products to be tracked. Unlike barcode technology, RFID does not require direct contact, or what is known as "line-of-sight" scanning.

BEA's RFID software, which is based on technology the company acquired when it bought ConnecTerra last fall, works by filtering data from RFID devices and sending the information to back-end servers. (See BEA Bags ConnecTerra, BEA Acquires ConnecTerra , and BEA Showcases RFID Tech.)

Initially, HP and BEA will be targeting their joint products and services at four key verticals; defense, pharmaceuticals, retailing, and "re-usable asset tracking," which includes the likes of shipping containers. The new HP and BEA offerings are available immediately with pricing dependent on the size of the user's RFID deployment

HP and BEA are just another example of budding partnerships around RFID. Oracle has forged a similar technology partnership with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to support its Sensor Based Services, and rivals IBM and Sun are also making moves in this space. (See IBM Acquires Trigo, IBM Fuels Innovation, Sun, SAP Collaborate on RFID, and Sun Adds RFID Solution.)

With a frenzy of vendor activity, at least one analyst is warning users to approach RFID with caution. "The technology is really being hyped at the moment. The danger here is that you are going to end up with technology driving it," explains Mark Blowers, senior research analyst at the Butler Group.

Blowers nonetheless thinks large enterprises, in particular, are looking for RFID products that can be deployed across their entire infrastructure. "Users are looking to have the whole solution," he says, encompassing hardware, software, and middleware. "For RFID to be viable you need the end-to-end solution, and that's why you're seeing all these partnerships."

At this stage, Blowers feels no single vendor has the silver bullet that can solve users' RFID woes: "I think they are all moving in the same direction on this one. The differentiator will be how comprehensive each of their solutions is."

Up until now, the pure-play storage vendors have been largely quiet on the topic of RFID, although Engenio has aimed its 4-Gbit/s Fiber Channel storage system at this space. (See Engenio Intros 4-Gbit/s FC Storage.) It remains to be seen whether the existing RFID partnerships will eventually be extended to include the likes of EMC.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • BEA Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BEAS)
  • Butler Group
  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)
  • Engenio Information Technologies Inc.
  • HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ)
  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)
  • Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.
  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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