CYBRA Teams with Solzon to Develop i5/OS RFID Software
October 16, 2007 Alex Woodie
IBM doesn’t think i5/OS is an appropriate platform on which to develop a radio frequency identification (RFID) application, but that doesn’t mean there is no demand for such an application. In fact, CYBRA and Solzon, by their account the only two software companies developing RFID software that runs under i5/OS, announced earlier this month that they are joining forces, and combining their respective strengths in i5/OS product development and real-world implementation to give System i customers the strongest option for native RFID deployment.
CYBRA and Solzon have been partners for the last two-and-a-half years, during which time Solzon has resold the New York City company’s i5/OS barcode software, called MarkMagic, and provided systems integration services. Solzon, which is based in New Hampshire, has also been developing its own package to control RFID devices and integrate them with i5/OS applications, a hybrid i5/OS-Windows product called the RFID Server for iSeries.
CYBRA, meanwhile, had its own plans for developing native i5/OS RFID software. The company announced its product, called EdgeMagic, earlier this year, and expects to ship the product before the end of 2007. But a year ago, when CYBRA was still contemplating building an i5/OS RFID product, the company did some research into the field, and found that Solzon was its only competitor, according to CYBRA president Harold Brand. “So we got together with Solzon and said ‘Look, you’ve got an RFID product, we’re building an RFID product. Why don’t we join forces instead of competing?'”
The folks at Solzon, including president Phil Przybyszewski, agreed with Brand’s view of the marketplace, and as a result, the two companies agreed to combine their development efforts around CYBRA’s EdgeMagic software. “We’ve thrown our lot, so to speak, in with CYBRA,” Przybyszewski says. “We don’t have plans to put any more development dollars into our RFID for iSeries product. We’re putting our development efforts into combining it with CYBRA.”
Several elements of the RFID for iSeries product are being added to EdgeMagic, according to Brand, including file layout, screen design, and the general architecture. “We took more of the infrastructure elements, rather than the actual code,” the CYBRA president says.
One part of Solzon’s RFID for iSeries product that won’t make its way into EdgeMagic is the Windows-based RFID device controller, which Solzon had OEM’ed from another supplier. “We used a different approach for device handling, and that forced us to add another server to the solution,” Przybyszewski says. “So from an iSeries user standpoint–System i, AS/400, however you want to phrase it this year–we think that the combined solution is more elegant and easier to deal with, because it’s a single platform, with fewer moving parts from a hardware standpoint.”
That view is not shared by IBM, which decided not to support i5/OS with its primary RFID software, WebSphere RFID Premises Server. According to an interview with an IBM product manager last year, IBM does not think that “niche” applications, such as RFID software, can generate enough demand among System i customers to warrant the time and effort required to port it to run natively under i5/OS. Instead, it runs only on “mainstream” Windows and Linux platforms.
However, relying on a Windows or Linux server to run a core business application like RFID is not something that most System i customers are comfortable doing, according to Brand. “IT managers in AS/400 shops love the AS/400, and they’re not looking for headaches,” he says. “They’re not looking for blue screens of death, they’re not looking for other platforms to support. They’re not looking for hackers and viruses. It’s an old, reliable AS/400 with all that security and good stuff built in.”
Bringing in a different platform for RFID introduces too much complexity, Brand says. “It takes a whole lot of different skills sets than the AS/400 people have,” he says. “For IBM, it’s great, because they get to not only sell their product, but they get to send in a whole bunch of consultants to do all that work. From IBM’s perspective, it sounds real good. From an IT manager’s perspective at an AS/400 shop, I think they have a different opinion on that.”
That’s not to say that EdgeMagic won’t bring in its share of services dollars. In fact, that was one of the other big reasons that CYBRA looked to team with Solzon in the RFID market.
“Unlike MarkMagic where most of our customers were able to get up and running in a very short amount of time on their own without needing a whole lot of help, with EdgeMagic, because it’s brand new technology, there’s not a lot of core skills in our customers’ shops doing RFID, so they’re going to need help,” Brand says. “They’re going to need people coming in, setting up the RFID equipment and showing them how to use it, and showing them how to place the tag, and maybe do some custom programming, and that’s where CYBRA is turning to Solzon as our premier systems integrator.”
CYBRA is hoping to tap into Solzon’s experience with RFID implementations–what Brand calls “scar tissue”–to provide an end-to-end RFID solution for System i shops. “They’ve actually been out there with real customers, and put in systems and gone through all the growing pains,” he says. “They’re really pioneers.”
The first big test of EdgeMagic will start in the next several weeks, when a consumer goods manufacturer that sells to Wal-Mart will try out the product in its i5/OS-centric environment. The customer, which runs the Infor BPCS ERP system and a warehouse management system (WMS) from Manhattan Associates, has been using IBM’s WebSphere RFID Premises Server for the last couple of years, but would rather use a native i5/OS RFID solution. The beta is expected to continue into the start of December, and if all goes well, EdgeMagic should be generally available by Christmas.
While EdgeMagic will run natively on i5/OS, the System i won’t be the only platform that it runs on. Customers will also be able to deploy the software, which features a mix of Enterprise Java code and RPG, on any platform that’s capable of running a Java application server, such as WebSphere, Oracle WebLogic, or Apache Tomcat.
CYBRA and Solzon are taking a modular approach to developing EdgeMagic, enabling it to evolve from the most basic “slap and ship” RFID requirements, all the way up to full integration with ERP, WMS, and EDI systems, according to Przybyszewski.
“Being RFID complaint is not necessarily defined the same way, depending on who you talk to,” he says. “There are a more moving parts than you need to be concerned about when you start hanging more RFID devices in the warehouse, and trying to feed your back-end ERP system. That’s one reason why the product is designed in a modular format.”
EdgeMagic will feature 5250 and Web-based interfaces, and will include the option for graphical business performance dashboards for business intelligence purposes. The company expects to have a series of pre-packaged integration points for the most popular i5/OS enterprise applications, such as BPCS, J.D. Edwards, Manhattan Associates, and VAI‘s S2K Enterprise, will include RPG and CL APIs for integrating with homegrown applications, and will use a wizard-based approach for the initial setup.
The companies are also developing a “Geiger Counter” function in EdgeMagic that will allow people to locate tagged devices in areas where installing permanent RFID tag readers is not feasible. Possible uses of this “closed loop” type of RFID implementation in the real world include: tracking down loose DVDs in a retail store; locating expensive equipment in a crowded hospital; and finding specific documents in a law office where thousands of boxes of documents are stored.
Pricing for the basic compliance package is expected to start at about $16,000, while EdgeMagic Enterprise, which enables deeper integration with back-end ERP and WMS systems, will start at about $49,000. The Management Information Dashboard will cost about $7,700. For more information, visit the companies’ Web sites at www.cybra.com and www.solzon.com.