RFID Reality Check

Storage, for once, is not to blame for the CIO's ulcer

May 2, 2006

2 Min Read
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11:30 AM -- LAS VEGAS -- Interop -- Could the data storage demands of RFID be overhyped? For some time now, users, analysts, and -- surprise, surprise -- storage vendors have highlighted the data strain of RFID on back-end storage systems. (See HP & BEA Tag-Team on RFID, RFID Rocks Back-End Storage, DiamondCluster Urges Reality Check, and IDC: RFID Success Depends on Networks.)

But in Las Vegas today, a number of IT managers and CIOs were singing a very different tune. At the Interop show here, Russ Leaton, IT director at carton manufacturer Burd & Fletcher, explained that corralling the necessary terabytes is not keeping him up at night. "That's not the big issue for us, because storage is cheap," he added. "The [RFID] infrastructure is the worry."

Across town at another RFID event, Jim Noble, CIO of Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Kraft Foods and Philip Morris USA, explained that storage is not his top priority either. "You would think that I would be losing sleep over my SAP system and how it could handle all this information," he said. "You would think that I would be buying shares in EMC because we have to store a lot of information."

But according to Noble, there is no need for such drastic measures because Altria's product lines only have about eight events, or specific points, where RFID data is collected on the journey from factory to warehouse to store. "That's really not a big deal, [because] we can manage to scale to that without any trouble at all," he noted.

Even software giant SAS, a major beneficiary of any RFID data explosion, admits storage is not the real pain point for users at the moment. Keith Collins, the vendor's CTO, told Byte and Switch that the biggest hurdle is the RFID hardware itself: "The big costs are the per-unit devices -- the RFID chips and the readers."This makes sense. Dealing with spiraling storage volumes, after all, is not exactly uncharted territory for the average IT manager. Trying to make sense of an emerging, mission-critical tracking technology, however, is a different ball game altogether. (See More Users Signal RFID Intentions.)

That said, Kevin Humphries, senior vice president of IT services at FedEx, speaking on the same panel as Altria's Noble, urged a degree of storage caution. IT managers, he explained, should not "make light" of the challenges involved in collating "unbelievable" amounts of data. The exec warned that a lot of middleware is required to process this information, "or it will become a burden very quickly."

Whether storage is the biggest RFID hurdle for users or not, it looks as if the path to supply-chain happiness is going to be a long one.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP)

  • SAS Institute Inc.0

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