Stuck in the Middle Again?

While IT professionals look for ways to integrate their applications internally, IBM's message-oriented middleware MQSeries provides a way for legacy applications to communicate with the newer applications

At a time when enterprise decision makers are grappling with the dauntingtask of integrating the islands of applications within their operations, hope may be closeat hand. These days, that hope increasingly is taking the form of message-orientedmiddleware, such as IBM's MQSeries, which has been enhanced with tools developed byvendors such as New Era of Networks Inc. (NEON) and Candle Corporation.

Although message-oriented middleware has been kicking around the IT arena for years,this next generation functionality ­ including sophisticated management and integrationcapabilities ­ has burst on the scene over the past 12 months.

"This messaging middleware space is probably the most dynamic of all, and closelyfollowed by the transaction monitoring space, because they both share some of the samebusiness drivers," says Bill Reedy, Vice President, Marketing, Transaction Systems atSomers, N.Y.-based IBM Software Solutions. "Application integration or businessintegration is one of the buzz words, but actually underneath it are a lot of other thingsthat add up to it."

Although organizations have long seen the need to link applications within theiroperations, the emergence of the Internet and electronic commerce also has heightened theneed to connect companies with their suppliers and their customers in a real-time manner."Because of the Internet's speed, they don't get the choice of starting over,"Reedy says. "They have to turn around and re-use what they have and Web enable it andinterconnect it and messaging middleware is terrific at that."

IBM has inked deals with a variety of vendors to incorporate this functionality intoits MQSeries messaging products in an effort to take some of the often intense pain out ofintegrating the wide variety of business applications that have proliferated throughoutthe enterprise. In a large number of organizations, legacy applications on variousplatforms coexist with newer, perhaps Web-based applications such as e-commerce. In orderfor organizations to take full advantage of the data closeted away in those disparatesystems and applications, they must find a way for those applications to communicate withone another.

"If you look at what the value is in the marketplace, you would say people paid acertain amount of money for the middleware to connect together applications," Reedysays. "They're paying about 10 times as much for them to be smart connections."

Analysts agree that the application integration component message-orient middlewarebrings to the table today is increasingly important to many organizations."Application integration is the fastest growing area of middleware and has been thatfor at least the last year," says Yefim Natis, Vice President and Research Director,GartnerGroup. "Every middleware vendor ... has some degree of application integrationsupport today already in their current products. They started several years ago, bybeginning to move in this direction, and 1998 was the year that everyone jumped on thebandwagon."

Middleware Market Gains Strength

Analysts are bullish about the prospects for the middleware market in general and themessage-oriented middleware space in particular. Overall, 1998 was an outstanding year forthe middleware markets and the outlook is likely to improve in the near future, accordingto Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corporation's (IDC) "Middleware 1998Worldwide Markets and Trends" report.

The combined middleware markets grew 28 percent to $1.7 billion despite the worldwidesales drag created on middleware products by the Year 2000 date problem, European currencyconversion, and the Asia/Pacific economic slowdown. As middleware vendors make theirproducts easier to use, IDC believes sales of middleware products will continue to growrobustly and researchers believe annual growth rates will exceed 30 percent by 2002 withvarying degrees of growth within each middleware segment.

IDC believes that emerging businessware products are likely to deliver a future thatfor the first time unites the diversity of applications that are present in today'sbusinesses. Message-oriented middleware, which currently includes the emergingbusinessware market, is slated to displace data-access middleware as the largestmiddleware market segment by the year 2000. IDC researchers were enthusiastic on the useof Enterprise Java Beans as a convergence point for the application development community.The researchers also believe that distributed transaction processing middleware willbecome the second-fastest-growing middleware market, following the leader,message-oriented middleware.

"Customers are increasingly buying into middleware because it simplifies thecomplexity of distributed processing in an heterogeneous environment," says Ed Acly,Research Director for IDC's Middleware service, "Middleware's range of functions tothe distributed program, such as transaction management, load balancing and Web-to-legacycomputing, eases the application developer's burden to build distributed applicationsacross the customer's choice of underlying hardware, operating systems, networks, databasemanagement systems and object models."

These growth opportunities have come at a price for many smaller middleware vendors,Natis believes, in large part because of the market strength of large software vendors andthe increased need for application integration within enterprises. "Until maybe acouple of years ago, application middleware was mostly provided smaller vendors and therewere many of them, each holding a small part of the market," Natis explains.

"As the big guys have come in with large products ­ distributed platformmiddleware ­ the smaller vendors have to look for other opportunities because it's verydifficult for them. Some become partners [with large companies] or are acquired. In anyevent, they all need to look for new growth opportunities and application integrationseemed to be an available growth opportunity because the larger vendors have not yetturned that way."

Other market dynamics have had an impact as well. The Internet, which once was seenonly as a publishing medium by most businesses, increasingly is becoming a tool formission-critical business information, and tried-and-true legacy applications must beWeb-enabled. "As the Web moves to the business, people are trying not to again writeanother set of stovepipe applications," Natis says. "What people are trying todo is build component applications, applications that are written for the Web but that arebuilding on top of the existing applications."

This application integration task is not easy because it typically requires more workthan writing brand new code and creating brand new data definitions. "It requires adifferent kind of middleware, it puts forth different kinds of problems," Natis says."The more the Web moves toward the enterprise, the more there is a pressure and arequirement to provide that middleware infrastructure that allows you to create Webapplications that utilize existing applications, and that requires integration."

"The reason people are buying message-oriented middleware is because you can nowdo something really useful with it that has a tremendous amount of value," says MikeDonaldson, Senior Vice President Worldwide Marketing for Denver-based New Era of NetworksInc. "Every single company has this problem to some degree and certainly the largerthe company the more problems they have."

IBM Partners Boost MQ Series

From IBM's point of view, these are many of the challenges its MQSeriesmessage-oriented middleware aims to address. In May '98 IBM unveiled enhancements to theMQSeries family of software products with a goal of addressing business integration issuesquickly and economically.

The MQSeries message-queuing software has been the foundation for IBM's businessintegration initiative, which aims to integrate existing, new and packaged applications,such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), across platforms, from mainframes to PCs. Theproduct family includes the message-queuing software; MQSeries Integrator which providesrules-based message brokering in a central hub; and MQSeries Workflow, which integratesresources and capabilities with a company's business strategies.

IBM also has tapped the expertise of other vendors in the space to boost thefunctionality of the product family. This past June, Candle Corporation's Command CenterAdmin Pac for MQSeries began shipping with the IBM message-oriented middleware product."Candle has been a partner of ours for a very long time and has a lot of skills inour product," Reedy says, pointing out that Candle "has provided some of thesystems management capabilities to our MQSeries family that make it more manageable andeasier to administer in customer environments."

The Candle deal enables IBM's MQSeries to include a selection of Candle solutions thatwill enable customers to test, configure and manage their MQSeries applications andnetworks. "We actually build a lot of tools on top of MQSeries that provide value-addfor MQSeries or other message oriented middleware," says Barry Ader, director ofmiddleware solutions, Candle Corporation. "There are tools that Candle historicallyhas provided that allow MQSeries to be that production-ready, mission-criticalapplication. Those tools include systems management tools, availability performancemonitoring, making sure that MQSeries is up and running, making sure that MQSeries isperforming optimally and all of the applications underneath it are performingoptimally."

A similar agreement with NEON resulted in the development of MQIntegrator for IBM'sMQSeries. This capability enables IBM MQSeries users to implement quickly and easilyreal-time, application-to-application message transformation and intelligent messagerouting capabilities. "MQSeries Integrator [has] the ability to transform messages inflight ­ not programmatically ­ and make them look the way the person on the other endwants to receive them, to reroute messages based on content and circumstances, to react tothe dynamics of the world," Reedy explains.

"MQSeries is kind of like a road and MQIntegrator gives them the ability to haveintersections and to have the ability to control what data goes where; as well as also theability to reformat it as necessary because different systems use differentrepresentations for the same data," says Donaldson. "The ability put in businessrules so that you can do things like recognize when a certain message comes in and thentwo or three other messages need to go out to other systems which is very common when youget into these integration type scenarios."

A number of other companies, including TSI International Software Ltd., are providingdirect connections to IBM's MQSeries and firms, such as MessageQuest and Tivoli, arebasing business integration and management solutions on the MQSeries family.

BI Likely to Drive Market

At the core of the business case for middleware, many observers believe, is theincreased requirement for application integration throughout the enterprise. "There'sa lot of interest across the board for application integration issues," Natis says.

One reason application integration has come to the attention of the general market isthat messaging middleware has improved in its functionality, its quality and itsintegrity, he believes. "Application integration has emerged as an alternative to themuch discredited open systems movement and application integration ­ the wholeapplication integration direction in the industry ­ is a sign of the industry acceptingthe reality of [heterogeneous environments] and dealing with that in a constructive wayrather than in an idealistic way through attempting to create new artificial standardswhich would eliminate the heterogeneity problem. Rather than eliminate it, the industry islearning how to deal with it."

"It's funny, the message-oriented middleware has been around for a long time andit's been fairly sleepy," Donaldson says. "My sense is these applicationintegration products, in their own way, are applications of message-orientedmiddleware."

Message-oriented middleware is a key component of the business integration effortbecause often, various systems and applications don't know about each other. "Theyare not designed with the notion that they are working with another system so theasynchronous capabilities that message-oriented middleware provides can easily integrateautonomous systems has really been the key element," Donaldson explains. "Thewhole [Enterprise application Integration] EAI thing could not have happened without theasynchronous messaging capabilities because if everything had to be synchronous, then allof these applications would have to know about all of these other applications and thatcould have never been possible."

Part of this is a result of the shift in the business case for IT investments. In thepast, companies could gain a competitive advantage by developing a unique application;these days, the greater advantage is gained through integrating a broad menu ofapplications. "Today in the world of business integration or application integrationwe're moving to a different value proposition," Reedy explains. "The MQSeriesand its peers are about removing programming costs, but more importantly they're drivingapplication value in a world that has a different set of values."

Message-oriented middleware is likely to continue to drive application value asorganizations embrace more applications than must be integrated internally, with tradingpartners or as a result of mergers and acquisitions.