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Users warned to take care when choosing middleware

By Ron Condon

August  1995
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LONDON (7-20-95) - Middleware is the key to building successful client/server systems, but users need to be careful about how they choose and implement it, warns a new report on the subject. (MIDDLEWARESpectra magazine defines middleware in a series of articles.)

"Above all, be prepared for problems," said Rosemary Rock-Evans, author of "Middleware: the Key to Distributed Computing," from the London-based consultancy Ovum.

If users take a disciplined approach and build a good technical architecture, she said, they may well reap the benefits of faster application development. But there are many potential problems, she added.

"The network could go down and you will get the blame, problems will occur in the middleware that neither the supplier nor you can solve, (and) the automatic translation proves not to be so automatic," she warned.

Ovum predicts that the market for middleware, worth $1 billion in US currency in 1994, will expand to $3 billion by 2000. The growth will see a change in the way the market is segmented, with the current largest category, database connectivity products, declining from 73 percent of the market to a mere 19 percent as more systems move from mainframes.

"As users become aware of the limitations of early client/server architectures, their requirement will change, increasing market share for strategic products such as DCE, ORBs, and distributed transaction processing monitors," according to the Ovum report.

Message-oriented middleware will occupy 23 percent of the market by 2000, while object request brokers, fueled by the arrival of Microsoft Corp.'s Common Object Model and object-oriented operating systems such as Cairo and Taligent, will hold 16 percent.

Distributed transaction processing monitors will benefit as mainframe applications are moved to distributed environments, and are predicted to account for 25 percent of the market.

The Open Software Foundation's Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) will play an important role for vendors such as IBM who want to position their products at the heart of large distributed systems.


The report, which Ovum claims to be the first global survey of middleware, defines middleware as "off-the-shelf connectivity software that supports distributed processing at run-time and that is used by developers to build distributed software."

That definition excludes such items as graphical-interface builders with a middleware element, but the report still managed to find 250 products that fit the bill.

Middleware products are vital in allowing users to cope in a world of heterogeneous systems, according to the report, because they help to insulate users from complexity and change, and cut down on maintenance.

"In a truly heterogeneous environment, a company may be changing the residency of the data, the residency of its software, the topology of the network, unplugging hardware and network components to replace them with new ones," according to the report. This has the potential for creating chaos, it says, unless the middleware can act as a standard reference point for mapping the changes.

The first message to users is the need for a strategic study: "The applications to be supported, the systems software to be used, databases and hardware needed, and their locations are all essential inputs to the process of deciding what middleware is needed."

The initial study forces users to think about where best to locate the applications and databases.

"A simplified environment with a clear strategy for applications and databases is a far better basis to work on than one of chaotic accumulation," the report contends. "Middleware cannot and should not be used to solve the problems of poorly structured data or outdated applications."

Rock-Evans is full of praise for DCE. She says that versions 1.1 and 1.2 of DCE have resolved the problems encountered in version 1.

"DCE has no competition as an architecture for secure, large-scale distributed computing," she said, though she acknowledged that "it is expensive and complex and requires a high level of commitment from those taking it up."

She also conceded that DCE, "like CORBA (the Common Object Request Broker Architecture) is vulnerable to vendor politics."

-- Ron Condon, IDG News Service, London Bureau

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