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BizTalk R2 Beta Released

BizTalk R2 represents a change in thinking about RFID, or radio frequency identification, says Microsoft product manager.

People aren't talking much about RFID, which is indicative of the technology’s slow growth curve. But Microsoft hopes that the second beta of BizTalk Server 2006 R2 changes all that.

Released earlier this week, BizTalk R2 represents a change in thinking about RFID, or radio frequency identification, according to Steve Sloan, Microsoft’s senior product manager for BizTalk Server. Up until now, he said, RFID has had a number of stumbling blocks to wide adoption, including price, integration and usability. "Readers and tags were prohibitively expensive, and there wasn’t an ecosystem of [RFID] solution providers."

That’s not the case anymore, Sloan said, claiming that advances in BizTalk Server R2's implementation of RFID has moved the discussion from the technological to the pragmatic: "The tone has changed: readers and tags have come down precipitously in price, and the ecosystem is now there. We're really moving RFID from ‘bits’ to business relevance."

The ecosystem Sloan referred to is the more than 100 partners Microsoft has collaborated with in order to bring about the improvements in BizTalk RFID. The partners ran the gamut in size, and that's helped Microsoft come up with a solution any size company can afford.

"The types of organizations this is applicable to is changing," Sloan explained. "It used to be the Wal-Marts and Proctor and Gambles, that had done early pilots. They were custom jobs, building their own software, and custom code is very expensive. Now, we're providing a platform that’s applicable to companies both large and small."

Sloan pointed to one example of a well-known Seattle sushi restaurant that uses RFID tags to track orders. The tags provide data to the kitchen on what to prepare next. "That was virtually unimaginable three years ago," Sloan said.

Anush Kumar, the product manager for BizTalk RFID, called the technology "enterprise RFID in a box." RFID is much easier to use than ever now, thanks to things like a plug-and-play layer. "It's been a nightmare to plug [RFID] devices in and make them work," Kumar admitted, but that hurdle has been cleared.

BizTalk RFID has already begun to produce ROI, Kumar said. As an example, he pointed to Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, a Killdeer, N.D.-based maker of parts for Boeing. Using BizTalk RFID has reduced Killdeer's manufacturing lifecycle by 30 percent, Kumar said, which translates into real savings. It's important, he added, to "Get to the place where there is enough evidence that people have saved money and impacted their business." Success stories like that, Microsoft hopes, will help RFID take off.

Sloan said he's very confident that BizTalk’s R2 general availability will be in the third quarter of 2007. No pricing information was released.

The BizTalk R2 beta 2 release can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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