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Sun Offers Nailed-Down RFID For Retail

Sun Microsystems said it has figured out the hard part of RFID for customers.

At the National Retail Federation Convention in New York Monday, Sun unveiled a reference architecture that can act as a guide for customers who want to integrate RFID data with back-end enterprise systems.

Officials said Sun RFID Reference Architecture has been designed, tested, tuned, and documented. It includes Sun and third-party hardware and software that can be used to design the infrastructure and plan for the system's demands.

Vijay Sarathy, director, RFID product marketing and strategy, Sun Microsystems, said it was the first blueprint for putting together an RFID system that lays out the "nuts and bolts." The reference architecture tells customers, for example, how many readers or servers it will need for a specific level of data.

At the same time, Sun promised retailers an industry-specific package, RFID ISA for Retail, to be released this quarter. Sun is developing the ISA for Retail with SeeBeyond, a software vendor that provides an application integration platform. The ISA for Retail aims to help retailers optimize their back-of-store and warehouse inventory management through improved supply chain visibility.

Sun is working to deliver RFID Industry Solution Architectures for the manufacturing, government and pharmaceutical sectors this year, with different partners.

"The Industry Solution Architectures are defined for specific industry problems, enabling efficiencies in certain industries," Sarathy said.

Sun is not the only vendor working on industry-specific products. According to ABI Research, the next phase of RFID implementations will target verticals including pharmaceuticals, aerospace, automotive and energy.

Mike Green, Sun's vice president of retail, said that Sun got serious about industry verticals this year, naming nine vice presidents, including himself, to head different verticals.

"Sun had never focused very hard on presenting its value proposition to our customers from an industry perspective," he said. His line of business will sell not only RFID but also other Sun products, such as thin client technology and Java POS (point of sale) systems, which can benefit retailers.

Also at the show, Sun announced Sun Java System RFID Tag and Ship Solution, a simple, entry-level RFID package for manufacturers that need to quickly meet mandates from their customers to ship crates or pallets with RFID tags.

Wal-Mart , Target, Albertsons and the U.S. Department of Defense all told their top suppliers to begin tagging by January 1, 2005.

"This is our recognition that customers are still interested in addressing the mandates," Sarathy said. "We put all the pieces together, tested it and put it out as one solution you can buy." Sun hasn't priced the package yet, but it will be available shortly.

Sun said the package, which includes Sun W2100z workstation and monitor, Sun Java System RFID Software, a Printronix RFID printer, an RFID reader and a barcode reader, could handle tagged cases or pallets in about one or two seconds per unit, and it can be up and running in around one week.

Because Sun products are standards-based, he said, its RFID software, for example, should work fine with other companies' standards-based products for those who want to assemble their own parts from a variety of vendors. "But there's always some level of pain," he said.