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An extended enterprise cloud middleware migration binge will gain momentum in 2018, and that's good news for software developers and businesses faced with growing hybrid integration loads. Currently, two models -- integration platform as a service and middleware as a service -- are gaining traction, but there is still a good case for choosing independent cloud middleware services.
Industry watchers expect middleware modernization efforts will stay strong for the next several years. Overall, 84% of legacy middleware will be replaced during the next four years, according to Aberdeen Group, and this will lift worldwide revenues from about $27 billion in 2017 to $33.6 billion in 2020, according to Gartner Inc.
"As middleware is subsumed into cloud services, developers will benefit from the automation, scalability, agility and ease of use inherent in cloud development and integration tools," said Stephanos Bacon, senior director of portfolio strategy for Red Hat's application platforms business group. Businesses will benefit from stronger integration pipelines within their systems and within their partners' and customers' systems, as well more manageable cost models, he said.
Middleware's path to the cloud
Middleware as a term may fade away as it evolves into cloud integration platforms, but it still has a big role to play in enterprise IT.
"[Legacy] middleware is dead. Long live middleware … in the cloud," said John Rymer, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "However middleware is delivered and whatever it is called, it is still a crucial component in the IT stack."
For decades, legacy middleware platforms have resided on mainframes, servers or both to supply the pipelines that connect applications, services, devices, data sources and businesses. Middleware's roots lie in the application server, and its capabilities have grown to handle the demands of more distributed computing environments, such as load balancing, logging, tracing and messaging. The app server provides implementations of various APIs, a security layer, a runtime system and the scaffolding into which developers can plug in your code, Bacon explained.
Traditional middleware pipes aren't rusty, but they're too heavy and sluggish to handle many businesses' complex hybrid integration needs. Indeed, enterprise adoption of hybrid cloud models is the tipping point for the emergence of middleware as a service (MWaaS), said Ahyoung An, senior product marketing manager at MuleSoft. In a hybrid cloud environment, multiple cloud platforms and their components, including apps, microservices and APIs, must be integrated. Middleware is a key piece of hybrid integration, and its inclusion in integration platform as a service (iPaaS) offerings was a no-brainer, she said.
Not all aspects of middleware are incorporated into iPaaS, Bacon explained. Some active services, such as messaging and caching, are being offered as independent services that developers can use.
MWaaS vs. iPaaS vs. independent services
John RymerPrincipal analyst, Forrester Research
Currently, the two primary middleware-focused cloud platforms are iPaaS and MWaaS. Today, embedded into iPaaS are middleware tools for handling cradle-to-grave integration workflows, including integration development, execution, monitoring and lifecycle management, according to Rymer. MWaaS features provide traditional middleware capabilities coupled with cloud services. Inside MWaaS are standard cloud, application and B2B integration features -- including messaging and caching -- as well as iPaaS, mobile backend as a service, API platform as a service, data-centric platform as a service and other cloud services, according to the "Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a Middleware-as-a-Service Suite, 2017–18" report.
Many developers choose independent cloud middleware services, either because they are best-of-breed in a category or aren't tied to a cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) platform, Rymer said. With so many types of cloud middleware services available, the independent option is viable. A lot of people want independent software, but those who already run software on IaaS may not.
Benefits of a cloud middleware migration
Ease of use is a primary benefit of cloud middleware for developers, Bacon said.
"You don't have to install the software on your data center. You just subscribe to it, configure for your needs and off you go," he explained.
Using cloud middleware services eliminates all hardware processes, which can take weeks or months to complete, according to Rymer. Another plus is that many MWaaS and iPaaS vendors have featured middleware products in their lines for years. Other benefits of cloud middleware include modern real-time reporting, low-code development tools, more effective developer UIs and process automation.
"Rather than write code to set up, define and implement integrations, developers use more powerful visual tools, which makes them more productive," Rymer said.
Some IT organizations move to cloud middleware to better manage integrations related to containerized applications and microservices architecture, An said. And cloud middleware is a cornerstone in managing interservice communication, Bacon explained, automating central management in a way that is transparent to developers.
Perhaps the top benefit of cloud middleware services over on-premises middleware is support for applications that operate on web protocols, such as HTTP and WebSocket, and use RESTful interfaces and JSON for the payloads. In the past, apps ran on proprietary protocols and weren't web-based. Current on-premises middleware supports new standards and protocols and frequent updates are needed. But, in the cloud, these updates take place without developers' assistance.
"Today, when people build applications, they oftentimes are wiring together different web services that are accessible through APIs," Rymer said. "For hybrid integration to work, it's so important to support REST and JSON, because that's the way that APIs are expressed."