Pet Peeve: I Think Middleware Should Be in the Middle of Something

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On this blog, I try to write something from my information technology (IT) investment research that relates directly to IT management and staff and that will help you in your day-to-day work.


I'm not sure today's post qualifies, but bear with me. Gartner's annual release of its middleware market sizing and forecast gives me my one day a year to vent about the way the word "middleware" has changed meaning over the years. I think middleware should be restricted to software that's in the middle between something else; no one else seems to agree.


According to Gartner the market, officially called the application infrastructure and middleware (AIM) market, includes:

"... 11 segments that comprise general-purpose portal products, BPM-enabling technologies, application integration and platform middleware and B2B/Multienterprise products and new entrants, notably integration as a service (IaaS) and integration appliances..."

Yet the press conveniently telescopes this down to mean Gartner's definition of the middleware market.


What do the leading players in the market, according to Gartner, think? Well the top two -- IBM and BEA/Oracle -- don't agree with Gartner's definition or with each other. IBM, when it talks about its "middleware" business, also includes Business Intelligence, information-management (that is, database), content and collaboration software (e.g., Notes) products. Oracle doesn't include database, of course, but otherwise uses this broader definition of the word, including its in-memory data grid software.


All of this language manipulation basically obliterates any meaning of the term. As a result, traditional middleware players such as TIBCO, which must have been darn close to Microsoft's number 5 ranking for 2007, and Software AG/WebMethods don't get mentioned when the press is talking about "middleware." And of course, completely lost is the fact that most middleware you use is buried inside other software (e.g., Basis inside SAP R/3 or Internet Information Services inside Windows).


Oh well, does it matter?


For you, it should mean don't just stick with the household brands when thinking about your infrastructure. This is especially true if you are thinking of moving to open source middleware. There are a lot of advantages of going with middleware that is independent of the leading suppliers' grand scheme of things. But it also requires some extra work that may not be worth the effort. It's a business decision you might not think about if you just depend on the broad definition of middleware thrown around by the press and analyst community.


As for me, I'll be back same time next year with the same rant.