BizTalk beta brings MS closer to RFID platform

Microsoft inched closer to releasing its RFID platform when it shipped the first public beta of BizTalk Server 2006 R2.

The server, Microsoft’s business process and application integration platform, includes a number of RFID-specific features, such as plug-and-play services for RFID devices, that Microsoft hopes will make it easier for companies to roll out the technology and simpler for vendors to build products on top of it.

BizTalk Server 2006 R2 Beta 2 is Microsoft’s first public beta of the software and is its biggest splash ever into the RFID market, according to company officials.

While RFID is the main focus, Beta 2, which is feature complete and slated to ship by the end of September, also features native support for electronic data interchange (EDI). Microsoft also added integration with Vista and Office 2007, including adapters for Windows Communication Foundation and Workflow Foundation in Vista, and for Office SharePoint Server.

Microsoft’s RFID announcement comes a day after the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a 154-page report detailing best practices for retailers, manufacturers, hospitals and federal agencies that says organizations that use RFID devices should systematically evaluate potential security and privacy risks posed by the technology.

Microsoft’s goal with BizTalk Server 2006 R2 is to drive the integration of RFID data, back-end systems and line-of-business applications using BizTalk as a hub.

The hope is to integrate real-world data at the edge of the network, such as the number of cases of a product sitting on a loading dock, with business process workflow and line-of-business applications like SAP to aid in decision making.

“The focus is to make this platform so it enables mainstream RFID adoption,” says Anush Kumar, product manager for BizTalk RFID. “If you provide RFID data for people to consume and act upon, you really enable them to make better business decisions.”

Microsoft is starting at the hardware level by supporting integration of RFID devices using a plug-in-play service designed to make attaching an RFID device to BizTalk as easy as adding a new mouse to a PC.

The plug-and-play is supported by a service provider interface much like an SDK that allows device manufacturers to create drivers for their products. Microsoft also will support some RFID standards out of the box, including the Low-Level Reader Protocol (LLRP).

BizTalk Server 2006 R2 also includes event processing services that filter, aggregate and transform the data collected from RFID devices into business events that make sense of the incoming data stream.

Microsoft is working with 100 partners, including Intel and HP, and has 30 early-adopters including two running BizTalk Server 2006 R2 in production.

While Microsoft is integrating the RFID features into BizTalk Server 2006 R2 Enterprise Edition, it will also offer a licensing option for running BizTalk RFID as a standalone server.

Final pricing was not announced.

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