Oracle joins race to bring RFID to retailers

The software giant is designing middleware to add intensive data-tracking capability to its existing products.

Oracle is looking to capitalize on a developing technology intended to let computer networks wirelessly keep tabs on all sorts of objects, such as razors, dress shirts and prescription drugs.

The technology is known as radio frequency identification (RFID), and global companies, including Wal-Mart Stores and Procter & Gamble, are investing in it with the expectation that RFID will shave billions of dollars off their inventory costs.

Oracle discussed plans on Tuesday to develop RFID middleware, joining rivals IBM, Microsoft and others in the race to release software programs specially designed to handle the deluge of data that RFID systems are expected to produce. The information technology systems most companies use today are not equipped for a world in which billions of objects report their whereabouts in real-time, Oracle and its competitors say.

Oracle plans to build RFID data-processing capabilities into releases of its database and application server programs due out this summer. It plans to include special programs, called device drivers, in its software, said Allyson Fryhoff, vice president of Oracle Sensor-Based Services. The drivers are the technical bridge that allows computers running Oracle's software to talk to RFID readers, which wirelessly collect data about objects within range.

Oracle is working with a number of RFID reader makers, including and , which develop the driver programs. Oracle is also developing a "device driver framework" that will help companies administer and build application software for their RFID systems, Fryhoff said.

Oracle expects the adoption of RFID to fuel demand for its database, application server and business application programs as companies grapple with how to make sense of RFID data, Fryhoff added. The company is packaging the new capabilities into these core products, rather than creating separate RFID products, she said. As previously reported, the company expects to release an RFID-ready version of its warehouse management program in June.

"You don't have to buy yet another piece of middleware for RFID," Fryhoff said. "You should be able to leverage your existing Oracle database."

IBM and Microsoft, which compete with Oracle in the database software market, are also developing middleware for RFID, as are a number of smaller, specialty companies, including OATSystems.

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