With the explosive growth in the use of RFID tags and IoT sensors, having a rock-solid, reliable middleware system to process incoming sensor and tag reads is becoming increasingly important. Middleware is the part of a software system responsible for maintaining communications with IoT gateways and RFID readers, processing the data generated by those devices, and monitoring their health status. IoT middleware sits between the sensing devices and enterprise applications and provides common services such as data management, API management, authentication and messaging.

Diagram: The role of middleware in an RFID / IoT deployment

Due to the sheer volume of data coming from sensors and RFID tags (imagine thousands of tags being read at virtually the same time, thousands of times a day), IoT and RFID systems require a new kind of middleware. Traditional middleware is used to link applications, route data using different transport protocols, translate data into different formats, or exchange information via web services. Middleware designed for IoT and RFID systems has additional requirements. These include the middleware’s capabilities in signal processing, support of multiple devices, device management, and scalability, as well as ease of use, integration and security. Reliability, standards compliance, and alerting are other important features. When evaluating middleware, below are the essential elements to consider in each of these areas.

  • Signal Processing – The ability to collect, filter and aggregate data by eliminating duplicate, redundant, cross-reads or stray read events from reflections, and only processing the necessary data from incoming read events.
  • Multi-Device Support – The ability to integrate with a wide variety of device and sensor types including IoT gateways and sensors, active and passive RFID, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), GPS, LoRaWAN, mesh technologies, barcodes and other devices.
  • Device Management – The ability to monitor device health status and manage the infrastructure of devices from a centralized or distributed location.
  • Scalability – Having a modular, scalable architecture, that is easy to upgrade and expand to multiple sites, servers, or to handle an increasing volume of assets is essential.
  • Ease of Use – The interface for connecting and configuring devices should be simple and intuitive, allowing for easy, efficient management of devices. Middleware should be readily configurable based on internal business rules and requirements.
  • Integration with enterprise systems – Connect with various enterprise applications such as Asset Management, Supply Chain Management, Warehouse Management, and Enterprise Resource Planning systems. Efficiently exchange data with various databases via a web service or API.
  • Security – Middleware must address security concerns with devices at the edge of a network. IoT edge devices are often minimalistic and only capable of having basic security protocols implemented. Middleware strengthens these deficiencies.
  • Reliability – IoT infrastructure, particularly in warehouse and factory settings, may not be ideal and it is imperative that the system be able to recover from IT incidents or downtime and meet customer uptime requirements.
  • Standards compliance – Support existing and emerging RFID and IoT standards and provide for future standards.
  • Alerting – Middleware should allow for communication to devices such as light-stacks or audible alarms, and provide alerts via email or text messages.

Middleware systems do have limitations, and these should also be evaluated. Where middleware often falls short is device management, such as the ability to easily handle maintenance tasks like rebooting a remote device and updating firmware. In order to keep your RFID readers and IoT devices running optimally and ensure maximum security, updated firmware should be deployed frequently. Unfortunately, with many deployments utilizing readers across a broad geographic area, this can be a tedious, manual process. Device health self-monitoring infrequently provides more information than network communication status. Security management of edge devices, in the unfortunate event of a compromised device, is often handled through third-party tools and systems. 

What good middleware should provide in these areas is:

  • Device management – the ability to monitor a device’s communications status, and reboot devices, upgrade firmware, and change configuration settings remotely. For organizations with multi-cloud and containerized environments, middleware can make it cost-effective to develop and run applications at scale.
  • Security – the ability to secure communications and authentication between edge devices and central servers, and provide protection against vulnerabilities such as compromised devices. 

Another important design consideration is making sure the IT system architecture and middleware minimizes latency. Latency can occur at multiple points in a distributed IT system, such as between the gateway/reader and server, between a server and monitoring console, and between server databases. Consolidating and eliminating redundant data by middleware is required in order to maintain optimal data throughput and minimize latency.

If you are in the market for IoT / RFID middleware, start by focusing on these fundamentals. Does the middleware have the ability to handle signal processing and filtering, support the device types you are interested in deploying, and include device monitoring and security? As your system expands, focus on scalability, ease of use, multi-device support, and more sophisticated device management. If the asset tracking system needs to connect to other enterprise systems, ask about its integration capabilities. For more information, please contact info@rfidgs.com to discuss your requirements.

  • John says:

    Excellent post….very informative

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