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What The Future Holds For Middleware

By John Patrick, Vice President, Internet Technology, IBM Corporation

November 1997

The Internet is evolving into a new medium. It’s improving in speed, reach and compatibility, and converging with multimedia. The evolution is happening in a natural way, much as radio evolved from AM to FM Stereo, or as TV evolved from black-and-white with monaural sound to color with surround sound. The Internet will offer tremendous opportunities for businesses and institutions of all kinds because it’s going to be a global local area network with a billion people on it. All those people will have total access to the power of the network and to the applications it will make available.

This optimistic vision raises two major questions, however. The first is: How will these people be connected? Will they use network computers (NCs), PCs, PDA’s, or TV’s? Local area networks (LANs) or wide area networks WANs? Copper phone lines, wireless, cable, or satellite? The answer is that all of these will be used. Some people will have PCs, some will have NCs, some people will stop into a kiosk on their way to work. Some will have Web access from their cars, with personal digital assistants and other devices. There are all kinds of different ways, many yet to be developed.

The other question: What are they going to connect to? Where are these applications that allow people to avoid standing in lines to renew drivers licenses, to do their shopping, to get educated, trade stocks, buy insurance, sell cars, initiate supply chains and collaborate with others? Where are all these applications going to be? Many of these applications already exist. They exist on mainframe computers and LANs of companies and institutions all over the world. So the fundamental issue to consider is how are the users who are connected to the Global LAN going to connect to those existing applications? The answer is middleware.

Middleware, The Web and The e-business Model

Middleware provides gateways that enable the Web to become the new graphical user interface (GUI) into existing core business enterprise applications. It’s also taking on a new meaning in the networked world. Middleware is the glue, the gateway, the bridge that connects the Web to existing applications; PC to database server, MAC to PC, PC to UNIX, any to any. As more enterprises become global, they’ll need to fuse their information technology infrastructure with the Web in order to build and enhance their businesses. This is what we at IBM call e-business. E-business is why the Internet matters to the business world. A simple formula to remember is: e-business = Web + I/T. This combination is what becomes the “killer application” people have been asking about. The Web is an extension, not a replacement, of traditional I/T.

If e-business is going to become a successful reality, effective transaction processing driven by reliable and secure network connectivity must be in place. E-businesses will rely on middleware to support and simplify connections across increasingly diverse and complex networks. Why? Because middleware is the most practical way to provide fail-safe processing across heterogeneous environments. It delivers what e-business needs: secure cross-enterprise integration, reliable electronic communications with third parties and maximum flexibility to scale.

Another challenge facing corporate I/T managers is how to properly integrate applications across the enterprise to ensure that new Internet technologies (such as Lotus Domino and Java) can be exploited effectively. Middleware will play a major role here. For example, middleware will be written in Java to enable connectivity and applications and databases to span across heterogeneous environments. Today, for example, IBM has a CICS Java gateway that enables CICS applications on the mainframe to be utilized while connected from any Web browser. This is middleware written in Java.

On the groupware front, Lotus provides Domino.Connect, which allows the Domino database to exchange and share information with other types of databases, such as DB2, Oracle and Informix. MQ Series, IBM’s message-oriented middleware (MOM), is already running on over 20 different platforms. By building its middleware to run on multiple platforms IBM is able to enable existing systems to be extended to networks and used to integrate applications across many different vendor environments.

Distributed Computing Environment (DCE), developed by a consortium of companies, provided powerful security, directory and file-sharing technologies. Another consortium, the Object Management Group, developed the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) standard that extended the programming technologies to include object computing. CORBA, in IBM’s implementation, uses the security structures of DCE, so that both standards are playing together. And CORBA environments have interoperability with Active-X to enable it to extend to the Microsoft world.

IBM is moving DCE forward to a new line of middleware called DS Series and extending it with advanced Internet technologies. Public key technology will extend DCE in the security arena. Directory services will be extended using a new standard called Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a protocol for accessing on-line directory services. to help businesses locate things on any network. By extending DCE with these Internet technologies the DS Series middleware allows the fundamental directory and security services for CORBA. DCOM and CORBA to interoperate.

Distributed Middleware Makes Obsolescence Almost Obsolete

I/T product cycles continue to get shorter and shorter – to the dismay of I/T managers. Everyday, new software and hardware products are introduced that do things better and faster. And that’s a good thing. However, the corporate world has already spent billions of dollars on I/T hardware and software and shouldn’t be expected to replace all of it every time there’s a new development. And what happens after a merger? In each instance, middleware makes performance and compatibility upgrades simpler. Here’s how:

Middleware is heterogeneous.

It doesn’t matter what platform you have. Larger customers have a wide variety of systems on line. And that’s not likely to ever change. Corporations have invested multiple billions of dollars in many different vendors. And they aren’t going to throw away the billions of dollars worth of equipment and software to strive for a homogenous environment.

Middleware adds function.

Sometimes it takes too much effort to build function into an existing application. For example, rather that rewrite an application, a company may introduce a middleware layer to extend a database application to a business partner via MQ Series. A manufacturing company might use middleware to enhance manufacturing shop-floor control application with public key cryptography or internationalization.

Middleware builds partnerships.

Today’s constantly changing global market means frequent corporate mergers and breakups, and shifts in vendor and partnering relationships. For example IBM’s MQ Series middleware played a critical role in the recent Burlington Northern -Santa Fe Railroad merger. The merger, which brought together 31,000 workers, 45,000 miles of track and 200,000 pieces of rolling stock, involved linking the dozens of incompatible systems both companies owned. In fact , they were able to merge their entire systems over a weekend without missing a beat. That’s the power of middleware.

Middleware is efficient.

Because it makes use of today’s resources, middleware is a highly productive approach. Request broker technology, for example, allows heterogeneous systems, a mixture of incompatible systems, to work together, so that applications residing in one environment can operate more efficiently in another.

Middleware eliminates redundancy.

Middleware enables companies to use, reuse, and continue to use what they already have, and enables them to put it on the Internet to reach new constituencies. For example, if a multibillion dollar company with a huge database and numerous applications wants to add new Internet application, it won’t have to replicate its entire system just for the Internet. Instead it can use middleware to link the old and the new.

Middleware is global.

As Europe and Asia continue to integrate financial and industrial activities in the years ahead, some regulations affecting networks could remain country-specific. Software will also have to be configured with respect to language, currency, and other issues. Middleware will be the universal visa that will allow multiple systems infrastructure to run across many borders.

Internet 2, The Future Information Superhighway

The Internet as we know it today is an outgrowth of a backbone, called the NSFNet, which was built by IBM, MCI, and the Merit System in 1988 to connect numerous regional university networks. Initially operating at 56K bits per second it was upgraded in 1991 to handle 45 million bits per second. Up to now, the Internet has served us quite well. Many backbones have been built and Network Access Points put in place to coordinate the traffic flow. But in the months ahead the demands on this vital resource will likely increase to the point that the Internet as we know it today will not be adequate. Enter Internet 2.

Internet 2 is an architecture that’s going to provide something called gigaPOPs — very high speed points of presence organized by 110 key universities in the United States, including Pennsylvania State, Stanford, and the Universities of California, Chicago, Michigan and North Carolina. Cooperation in Canada, Europe and Asia will extend the concept globally. Systems on this new network, which is just starting to be constructed will be able to communicate at speeds as high as 10 billion bits per second and even faster in the years ahead. Although Internet 2 is starting out as a private university network, it will be built on an open-standards basis and connected to the Internet. Internet 2 is really a glimpse of what the Internet is going to look like in the future. That future may be only two to five years away. In time I believe that Internet2 will emerge and eventually subsume the current Internet – enabling opportunities for even more effective and useful technologies.

Already, IBM, Cisco Systems and other companies are using contributing technology and skills to build the infrastructure for this new network. The payoff to business will ultimately be very high speed and virtually seamless network integration. For additional information about bandwidth and the Internet, see “Bandwidth Galore“.

There are endless exciting possibilities for this emerging universally connected world. However, for all these wonderful things to take place, we must continue to have open cross-platform standards and a broad portfolio of high function middleware. Open industry standards will allow all companies, institutions and individual users to have the broadest possible access to new choices and new constituencies. After all, there is only one Internet. And middleware can link the existing systems and applications directly into this network of networks, enabling companies, governments and institutions of all kinds to conduct more e-business. –John Patrick