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DALLAS—Microsoft Corp. revealed at this week’s RFID World conference here that it is developing an RFID infrastructure—one that its claims will affordably handle device management, event management, integration and application development.

The infrastructure, in beta since January, is really an expansion of a middleware strategy Microsoft introduced just about a year ago.

In April 2004, Microsoft announced the formation of an RFID Partner Council to look at its options for building out RFID-based software.

Nearly a year later, on Feb. 17, 2005, the company announced “continued momentum” on its RFID strategy that included a Windows-based RFID middleware platform, the RFID-enablement of three out of four of its ERP (enterprise resource planning) suites, and a healthy mix of partners that are developing related software on Microsoft’s nascent RFID platform.

At the time, Microsoft provided few details of its platform, saying only that it would be enable the development, implementation and scalability of RFID software and hardware, with functionality that focuses on device abstraction, data modification and data transformation.

During his Feb. 28 breakout discussion at this week’s Dallas event, Alok Ahuja, senior product manager of RFID at Microsoft, provided more color.

Ahuja steered away from calling the product middleware, and instead referred to Microsoft’s RFID infrastructure.

He defined the bottom layer as a device management layer that will include functionality from Microsoft, and from its partners as well.

“We are working with a large range of hardware partners who are building out and surfacing [functionality] in the event manager,” said Ahuja.

The second layer is an event management layer that includes a business rules engine culled from Microsoft’s BizTalk Server.

The rules engine will enable the system to collect data from readers and transform it, but also to write to readers and commission tags as well.

This layer also includes open APIs, built on a .Net framework, to connect with other systems.

To read more about Microsoft’s RFID strategy, click here.

“This is really a very partner-centric product [geared toward] hardware vendors and system integrators,” said Ahuja.

“We are providing the guts, where you can connect with different vendors.”

Similar to rival Oracle’s Fusion Middleware architecture that is “hot pluggable,” Microsoft’s RFID infrastructure will present a pluggable architecture for customizable components, “with data coming in from RFID readers and a pluggable database,” said Ahuja. “It could be SQL [Server]; it could be another.”

This being the first beta of the product, all the decisions have not been made as to what the final infrastructure will look like.

Ahuja said his team is looking at different options, going through an internal debate as to whether an EAI (enterprise application integration) component requires bundling BizTalk, or whether it should be a stand-alone product.

“We are grappling with the strategy,” said Ahuja. “Our overall strategy is to make it very affordable, so we are grappling with the right strategy.”

One thing is certain—the product will require SQL Express, “so if you’re writing business rules and the data is stored, it can be a pluggable thing,” said Ahuja.

The product is being geared for Microsoft partners and ISVs (independent software vendors) that want to build on top of the platform, as well as for those customers that want to build their own RFID scenarios, according to Ahuja.

Despite several pressing questions from audience members, Ahuja declined to confirm a release date—though an attendee confirmed quietly that he would not wait “another three years” for a product.

The main point for Microsoft is getting it right, according to Ahuja.

“We’ve given it to some partners and customers, and we want to shake it out, get some more customer feedback,” he said. “The market isn’t going anywhere.”

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