Vendors try to make middleware more user-friendly

Convinced they can teach old networks new tricks, middleware vendors have unveiled a new round of products with XML capabilities and user-friendly tools designed to allow nonprogrammers to customise applications.

IBM last month launched MQSeries Version 2, the latest version of the company's messaging software, which links applications running on disparate platforms. The new version adds a translator for the content-tagging language XML. IBM claims the translator will make it easier for MQSeries to exchange data with the growing number of XML-based corporate portals.

Hoping to make MQSeries easier to manipulate and deploy, IBM added a visual tool that it said allows nonprogrammers to create business rules and application interfaces to MQSeries without having to write code.

"It's all very draggy-droppy, pointy-clicky types of things, but you don't have to write a line of code," said Rob Lamb, IBM's director of product marketing for business integration.

Easier Integration

Gerry Fitzgerald, director of global messaging at Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical giant SmithKline Beecham has been using such features to reconfigure MQSeries for SmithKline's merger with UK-based Glaxo Wellcome. He plans to use MQSeries to link SmithKline's JD Edwards OneWorld enterprise resource planning system with Glaxo's SAP AG system.

Meanwhile, MetiLinx, released its Enterprise 2.0 middleware with an algorithmic routing system designed to boost the scalability of applications that use it. MetiLinx was recently spun out of Mariner Systems, which designs and maintains databases in the commercial shipping industry.

Although his company lacks the clout of IBM, MetiLinx CEO Carlos Collazo said he believes customers will increasingly look to middleware to boost application performance without expensive upgrades to servers or networks.

The company released its first multitier middleware last fall and rolled out a new version May 1.

Intelligent Routing

According to Collazo, the company's middleware uses an algorithm to route activity more efficiently among the user interface, business logic and database tiers of an application.

The result is improved transaction speeds and crash protection, he said. "This not only monitors the system but does something about it," Collazo said.

Partnered with professional services company Ernst & Young International in Dallas, MetiLinx has helped build an online teaching system for Cisco Systems in San Jose.

"Cisco's system is pushing through 1GB an hour (through its NT server network)," Collazo said.

"It makes us scream out there; the site just flies," said Mark Bockeloh, an Ernst & Young partner in charge of technology for the company's electronic-learning systems.

MetiLinx connects the application logic and database layers of the online educational application. In the near future, Bockeloh said he plans on using MetiLinx to also connect the application and interface tiers, which, he said, would boost throughput 30% to 40%.

"We had this great application, but we weren't able to provide predictability," Bockeloh said. "Now we've got that, along with manageability and scalability." The network runs more efficiently than originally planned, with only 80 of the initial 100 servers in use.

Collazo said middleware will allow companies to avoid the "brute-force method" of adding hardware every time a system problem occurs. The goal of MetiLinx is to create those efficiencies by working in every tier of a corporate system without bogging down either servers or networks, he said.

"It doesn't create a layer and force all the other technologies to pipe through it," Collazo said. "If it's just another application built on the same components, then you inherit the inefficiencies of those components. We're looking to eliminate those inefficiencies."

Consistent Look and Feel

Lamb predicted that more and more customers will need a consistent look and feel to their applications, driving the need for middleware. As XML and application programming interface standards begin to form in the middleware market, Lamb said he envisions the emergence of a less-proprietary IT world -- especially with the current pace of corporate mergers and business-to-business partnerships.

"It's increasingly difficult to be integrated with another company if you yourself are not integrated internally," he said. "That in itself will likely become a standard."