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The Exciting World of Middleware!

One meaning of the phrase “enterprise software” is “confusing as hell!”. To that end, I thought I’d look up how a few companies pitch their middleware offerings. Here we go!

Oracle + J2EE = Integration

Oracle Fusion:

Oracle Fusion Middleware is a portfolio of leading, standards-based and customer-proven software products that spans a range of tools and services from J2EE and developer tools, to integration services, business intelligence, collaboration and content management.

Does Everything, and It’s “Free”!


JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite (JEMS) is an extensible and scalable suite of products for creating and deploying e-business applications. JEMS offers cutting-edge technology components which customers can mix-and-match and roll out into their line of business infrastructure – all at zero-cost software licenses.

SOA is our Middle name

BEA WebLogic (there were so many choices; this one seemed good):

Are you leveraging your IT assets for competitive advantage? Looking to create applications based on a Service-oriented Architecture? BEA WebLogic Platform 8.1 accelerates the service-driven enterprise by enabling IT to simplify and unify its development and integration assets. BEA provides the platform that brings SOA to mainstream IT projects, accelerating enterprises’ ability to rapidly evolve into a shared services environment and deliver faster time-to-value for competitive advantage.

TKO: We are Middleware


Middleware is IBM software. Proven, powerful software like Websphere, DB2, Lotus, Tivoli and Rational. Software that helps automate systems, integrate operations, connect people and develop software – no matter the size or industry focus of your business.

The network is the middleware

Sun’s JES:

The Sun Java Enterprise System is a revolutionary, subscription-based approach to infrastructure software that reduces cost and complexity throughout the data center. Now it’s available both as a single, fully integrated, end-to-end infrastructure software solution and as six individual solution Suites that target your most critical business needs.

Mr. “Yes, we do integrate!” (with ourselves)


[MSFT “middleware”, that is, .Net does this:] The role of information technology (IT) in an organization continues to change at an accelerated pace, shifting the focus from cutting costs to helping drive revenue and profits. This change in focus requires an emphasis on quick, cost-effective integration with suppliers, partners, and customers outside the corporate local area network (LAN) and the firewall. In short, this means doing more with less. In the present environment, organizations are not only trying to react more quickly to rapid changes in the market place, they are also trying to reduce costs and simplify the complexities of their IT infrastructures.

Call us and we’ll do everything


SAP provides a comprehensive range of solutions to empower every aspect of your business operations. You gain the visibility to pinpoint inefficiencies — and the capabilities to transform them into competitive advantage. The foresight to identify new opportunities — and the agility to respond to changing business realities. The functionality to optimize your operations — and resources to extend best practices to your entire value chain.

What Just Happened?

Middleware can mean a lot of things: SOA, integration, IT making money instead of burning it, being quick and nimble…all the things all software now-a-days is pitched as fulfilling. Only a handful of the above handful were declarative enough to tag themselves as middleware providers: IBM came up as the first-ish Google result for “IBM middleware”, as opposed to, for example, “SAP middleware,” which comes up with nothing from SAP except a 2001, mySAP white paper on a 3rd party site.

The questions become: which of the above (or companies and software omitted) do you go with? How do you decide which on to get? Do you even need to get “middleware”? Why can’t you just get a couple programmers to code up all that madness? How about Can I just use Google? Oh yeah, and what was that about “business value”?

You might also be thinking:

  • “Why don’t all those things already work together?”
  • “What exactly is SOA again?”
  • “How much is this going to cost me?” (Sun and JBoss are eager to tell you.)
  • “How long will it take?”

Customization Tug of War

Unfortunately, I have no answers for you now. The main reason is the dirty secret of middleware, and enterprise software in general: the tension between the customization and one-size-fits-all approaches to software. Customers want the software completely customized to their business process (how they run their business), while vendors want every customer to use the exact same code-base and in the exact same way. Both of these are motivations aimed at reducing costs for the respective party. Both of them are rarely achieved by either party, and perhaps never by both parties at the same time.

The result of this tension is the middleware-middleware services industry: consultants. They’re the ones who figure out how to get your software to work with the software that’s supposed to make all the software work together. Deliciously ironic!

The MBA Programmer

Which always makes me come back to the same question: why not just hire a couple coders to boutique the whole thing for you in the first place? Sadly, the reason is probably that most coders don’t have the business, or even product management, sense to take on that role. What we need is the MBA programmer.

That line of thinking is ripe for further thought and discussion. It was all the rage when American programmers were crapping their pants over India off-shoring, but it’s died down recently when those fearful coders found plenty of work, uh, “refactoring” the code from afar. Which isn’t to say that the off-shoring paranoia won’t strike again: before India, we had Japan, so it seems like we’re in a 10 year, off-shoring freak-out cycle. Most people are putting all their bets on China as the next dog in that fight.

The positive effect of the last freak-out was a constructive kick in the pants for what the fat-and-happy, American programmers need to do. Pragmatic Programmer Dave Thomas has the best crack at the post-pants kick action plan that I’ve seen.

Of course, those of you, dear readers, who know me personally are probably thinking, “looks like you took a good crack at your own post-pants kick plan, you sell out!” ;>

Before that train of thought leaves the station…back to the mainline discussion!

Dog Food

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the best approaches for figuring out large software systems, and verifying marketing claims, is to ask the vendor how they use the software. Every large company faces the IT challenges that middleware is supposed to address (making all that IT crap work together and in-line with your business processes), so each of the vendors above probably has an interesting perspective. JBoss and Sun have the potential to be the most interesting: JBoss is small and new enough to have come up with something different, and from what I hear of Sun, they have a very heterogeneous IT setup.

We’ll see what information I can dig up, and I’ll get back to you ;>

Categories: Enterprise Software.