Vague about middleware? Watch its bite

Middleware may turn out to be the villain of the decade for IT professionals who face turbulent times if they relax their gaze, according to analysts.

Which means trouble from the outset as it seems few users are clear about the term and its function.

While Howard Malyon, IT manager for Grace Removals Group, foresees problems for companies who do not recognise the emerging role of middleware in business strategy, one group sees it as essential to its industry's ability to interoperate in the global electronic marketplace. "Middleware is no longer just infrastructure," the Securities Industry Middleware Council says of its mission to improve interoperability.

But Malyon said most of the middleware products that have crossed his path are still open to interpretation by users. "Unless this is recognised early on then problems arise because development evolves in different directions," Malyon said.

Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute defines middleware as "connectivity software that consists of a set of enabling services that allow multiple processes running on one or more machines to interact across a network."

By next year, industry analyst Meta predicts most organisations will have amassed a diverse collection of platform components, and during that year and next companies will struggle to reduce the portfolio to a manageable size and implement controls on portfolio investments.

"Overlapping products and skill sets required to develop, enhance and maintain [middleware] will reduce the cost effectiveness of these technologies and lead to confusion and artificial resource constraints."

Ally Thorne, IT manager with The Wine Society, said potential problems can be eliminated through testing scenarios, but "the difficulty is what happens when a problem does occur as it is difficult to identify which part causes the problems; for example, front end, middleware or back end".

Rationalisation of players within the middleware market is another key trend within this market according to several analysts.

As a result, ITOs need to ensure their vendor will be around for the seven- to 10-year investment in middleware.

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