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Sun Expands Push For Auto-ID

Already a major player in the Auto-ID market, Sun Microsystems this week announced an initiative for delivering the hardware, software and services that enable enterprises to link into the Elecronic Product Code (EPN) Network.

The announcement coincided with news that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based services firm is creating a new Auto-ID business unit to work to develop and deliver a standards-based Auto-ID/EPC solution down the road.

Sun's announcement came just weeks after retail giant Wal-Mart aired a mandate for its suppliers to become EPC compliant by Jan. 1, 2005. According to Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for Sun Software, the Sun initiative will help Wal-Mart suppliers and other enterprises integrate real-time supply chain data seamlessly into their existing business processes and enterprise assets, enabling companies to not only meet these new requirements but exceed them.

"Our commitment [to this technology] is indisputable," Schwartz told a crowd of nearly 500 at the EPC Symposium this week in Chicago. "Sun welcomes all Wal-Mart suppliers, and all other companies seeking to leverage EPC deployments to comply with next generation Auto-ID standards."

Executives from Wal-Mart were not available for comment.

As Schwartz explained it, the technology behind Sun's Auto-ID effort will be similar to the technology behind Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, the microscopic chips that some companies and retailers have considered for security and tracking purposes of clothes and electronics. This kind of EPC technology helps make the supply chain more efficient, safe, and secure by tracking goods every step along the way, reducing threats of counterfeiting, tampering, and terrorism, while increasing compliance with industry and shipping regulations.

More specifically, Sun said its software will deliver a dynamic federated service architecture that emphasizes reliability, availability and scalability (RAS) for Auto-ID pilots and deployments. The proposed solutions also will include lifecycle services to maximize the value of Auto-ID deployments, helping customers proactively architect, implement, and manage IT operations in heterogeneous environments. According to Julie Sarbacker, who will head the new Auto-ID business at Sun, most of the company's EPC offerings will be delivered through the Solaris OE and Linux-based hardware platforms, setting the stage for transparent integration into the EPC Network.

Sun has been involved with Auto-ID for more than three years. Along with partners including Alien Technology, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, ConnecTerra, Gorilla Logic, Manhattan Associates , Provia, ThingMagic, Tyco Sensormatic, VeriSign , and Xterprise, Sun has been a leading member of the Auto-ID Center, an organization dedicated to developing standards necessary to create "an Internet of things." As organization founders see it, by 2010 every physical item could carry its own unique information in the form of an embedded chip.

Still, some experts such as Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego are skeptical.

"The industry must make sure that they take into consideration the privacy and civil liberties implications of this technology," Givens told internetnews.com. "If Sun and other companies involved in RFID development do not address privacy implications head-on and design products with safeguards built in, they will face the same issue Intel experienced with Pentium III."

In January 1999, Intel included a unique identifier, the Processor Serial Number (PSN) in all of its new Pentium III chips. In April 2000, Intel reversed its stance and removed the technology from its future processors, starting with the Williamette family. A big batch of Pentium-III processors still has the PSN installed.

Auto-ID technology was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1999.