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Web Services Meet RFID

DDJ: We've been joined today by Chris Clauss, director of Sensor Information Management at the IBM Software Group. Welcome Chris.

CC: Thanks a lot Jon.

DDJ: Chris, a recent announcement from IBM focused on new software that gives clients richer capabilities to share and analyze accurate and real-time data that's generated by sensors like RFID tags. Can you tell us a little bit about the specifics of this announcement?

CC: Great. So basically what we're announcing is a product called WebSphere RFID Information Center. And the real focus of this product isn't so much how we acquire the RFID data, but it's much more around how we do information management of RFID and other sensor data. And so basically what we've done is we've worked within a standard body called EPC Global and we've defined two Web services:

  • The first Web service is around capture: How do we bring events into an event repository?
  • And the second one is about query: How do we selectively draw back out RFID events to solve some problem?

So basically what this allows us to do is it allows us to separate the data capture from the data usage, and to have a high velocity data repository for allowing me to use RFID events by filtering them.

So let's say I'm using RFID in a factory to manufacture products and to ship products, and I have a certain application that's really only focused on shipping. That application can subscribe to only the shipping events and it can ignore and not get notified of any of the manufacturing events. So basically what we're again trying to do is use Web services and Services-Oriented Architecture to separate the RFID event capture from the RFID event usage in order to enable multiple applications to access the events, and we very much do this in a high-velocity manner so we want to treat every incoming event as a mission-critical event. We don't want to drop any events and we want to make sure that events can be gathered and used internally.

The most exciting new dimension of what this product does and what this standard does is that it allows you to also exchange sensor events with trading partners in a secure way. So often you want to let a supplier or retailer know about RFID events or other sensor events that are happening inside your enterprise. This protocol and this product allow you to create Web services which go across firewalls and let you publish significant events to trading partners with some good Web services security.

DDJ: Chris, you mention EPC Worldwide. I know that EPCIS is an international standard. Can you tell us why it's an important standard?

CC: Great. So the standard body is called EPC Global, and EPC Global is really all around creating both hardware and software standards for RFID passive, RFID active, RFID at multiple frequencies.

The working group that we've been involved in is called EPC Information Services (EPCIS), and it basically is focused on how do we exchange our RFID events between trading partners. But the reason that this is such an interesting facet of sensor information management is that really this is about finding a lot of the illusive return on RFID investments. Again, a lot of the most interesting events happen in the supply chain of your trading partner and if you can be warned of products selling out on retail shelves or if you can be warned of products being shipped to you before they arrive, you can create a predictive and a proactive supply chain, and that's getting our customers pretty excited.

DDJ: Well when you're implementing such systems, you know like with WebSphere RFID Information Center, is the hard part the size of and the access to the database, or is it the real-time support -- or is it all of the above?

CC: In our actual building of this product, we've actually had to sweat a lot of details around both the streaming of sensor events without dropping any, with the creation of a distributed, relatively zero administration database across multiple buildings within a given enterprise. And we've really sweated a lot of the details on security: How do I do authentication and authorization of trading partners? and how do I, based on their security credentials and their security profile, let them see selected portions of selected events? We've actually sweated that a lot.

I would say that from the deployer's perspective, what you'll see is that IBM has tried as much as it can to take care of the issues of database deployment and of streaming operations. And in general, for doing the deployments, you'll focus on two Web services: You'll focus on a capture Web service and you'll focus on a query Web service. And you'll find that IBM has done lots of the mechanics to make the rest of it work kind of out of the box.

So again, we've wanted to make sure that we were ready to scale. We test the software with hundreds of millions of events streaming at it, and that's the sort of extra effort that we've put into sensor information management, so that other developers can focus on use case, on applications, and on turning sensor information into business insight.

DDJ: That's great Chris. If people want to find out more about RFID in general and the Web services in particular, is there a web site that you can direct them to?

CC: Yes, I would encourage people to come to and what you'll find there is IBM's solutions from our Sensors and Actuators Group, and we include RFID as one of those sensor networks which we support.

DDJ: Thanks for chatting with us today, Chris.

CC: Great pleasure, Jon. Thanks for having me.

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