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What is the definition of Middleware these days?

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I have been listening to presentations by some of the big vendors on their ‘Middleware’ strategies, products, and capabilities over the last month and I no longer think I understand the term Middleware in quite the absolute way that I did. What I can’t decide is if there is a generic redefinition that we should all be updating our understanding to grasp, or not. The old definition was pretty clear and linked to the technology and the needs for interconnection between applications, and systems which were inherently separate vertical stacks. But now I see it being used to cover a much wider range of topics, and most, if not all, of them relate to what I would describe as ‘business’ activities. Take a look at Oracle Application Integration Architecture, AIA, to see what I mean the Oracle definition now includes Business Intelligence as an example. Interestingly if you look up Middleware at IBM their definition is still based on technology but then they are separating this from SOA which is where they add in the business element. What is different if you look at the IBM view they tend to blur this around their other products covering information and content management. I guess they don’t have the business applications like Oracle. So the major vendors seem to be convinced that Middleware now embraces a lot of their products and has a new and wider role even if they haven’t got around to providing us with a new definition, or more correctly perhaps in this day and age of web 2.0 they are not editing the WiKipedia page! If you take a look you will see that it is still very much concerned with technology tasks. My challenge in thinking this through is to try to get behind the ‘product stacks’ and identify the requirement for this change and the value it brings in order to understand what and how to build the right value into solutions. I can’t come up with one answer, so here are my possibilities, and your views are welcomed, though given how many of you are now using RSS to read this I do recognise the time consuming element of visiting the page to make a comment. So to make it easier here is the url in an experiment to see if this helps.

  1. It’s an extension of the value case of SOA which is now starting to move to a phase two around adding business tasks as services to allow ready integration into a wider range of business activities. As an example this means treating Business Intelligence not as an application delivered to a few users, but as a generic set of services that are integrated into other activities and used by many, most even, business processes and users.
  2. It’s a move towards a Web 2.0 environment by creating a new liberated environment to make things freely available as Web Services rather than as defined elements for defined orchestrations. Actually I am not at all sure currently that this is true but I suspect that this is the direction that things will move towards.
  3. The conspiracy theory; it’s part of a move to make these capabilities available in a different way that will permit a shift to charging on a Software as a Service basis, or / and, it’s a lock in model by bundling these things into Middleware packages.
Your thoughts on these options, or indeed any other options, are welcomed, but most of all how about coming up with a new definition for Middleware that we can post on WiKipedia? My suggestion? Middleware provides the common shared environment for people, services, data, resources and indeed any other element where value is created by availability for simple integration ‘across’ an enterprise.

About the author

Andy Mulholland
Andy Mulholland
Capgemini Global Chief Technology Officer until his retirement in 2012, Andy was a member of the Capgemini Group management board and advised on all aspects of technology-driven market changes, together with being a member of the Policy Board for the British Computer Society. Andy is the author of many white papers, and the co-author three books that have charted the current changes in technology and its use by business starting in 2006 with ‘Mashup Corporations’ detailing how enterprises could make use of Web 2.0 to develop new go to market propositions. This was followed in May 2008 by Mesh Collaboration focussing on the impact of Web 2.0 on the enterprise front office and its working techniques, then in 2010 “Enterprise Cloud Computing: A Strategy Guide for Business and Technology leaders” co-authored with well-known academic Peter Fingar and one of the leading authorities on business process, John Pyke. The book describes the wider business implications of Cloud Computing with the promise of on-demand business innovation. It looks at how businesses trade differently on the web using mash-ups but also the challenges in managing more frequent change through social tools, and what happens when cloud comes into play in fully fledged operations. Andy was voted one of the top 25 most influential CTOs in the world in 2009 by InfoWorld and is grateful to readers of Computing Weekly who voted the Capgemini CTOblog the best Blog for Business Managers and CIOs each year for the last three years.

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