If you need to change or migrate middleware, choosing the best software can be an enormous challenge for an IT department. But getting it right can be one of the biggest opportunities to reap competitive advantage.
Middleware software itself is supposed to ease the integration burden by providing the functionality to link applications together, and provide consistent access to information. In practice, middleware can create as many integration problems as it solves, if care is not taken to adopt a coherent strategy for enterprise application integration (EAI). Because exactly as most large enterprises have a variety of different Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, due to acquisitions for example, so they may have middleware from more than one supplier.
And yet, changing middleware on any scale is usually difficult and expensive. In practice people seldom change established middleware unless either the underlying operating system or overlying applications are also ripped out and replaced, or the middleware itself has failed to establish well.
Typically, we see customers reconsidering their integration suites for one of the following reasons:
- They have an old integration environment / middleware – for example JCAPS – which in some cases may not be supported by the product vendors anymore. We help them to shore up their systems, or to select and migrate to new systems.
- They have some middleware but are considering migrating to Cloud – we help them to develop their strategy and implement it.
- They have middleware but are not using it optimally – we often do integration reviews for customers, and find many ways they can be getting more from their systems, and help them fix problems which they have sometimes been struggling with for years.
- They have no middleware at all, with disparate systems which are not integrated in any way – we help them develop an integration strategy where applicable, perhaps select an ESB, and then design and implement it for them.
So if you’re in this position and you’re not sure where to start, here are our guidelines:
1. Develop a full understanding of why you need to make changes, and work out what is required – for example greater ability to integrate with other systems you have.
Here are some typical advantages people are looking for:
- Improved agility – the ability to deliver services across mobile, cloud and traditional application platforms. Middleware technology can help rationalise legacy IT systems into reusable, general-purpose functionality blocks that facilitate quicker changes to business processes. As a result, the business is better supported for changes in products and services as well as the introduction of new channels.
- Increased efficiency – Smart managers are streamlining the way they do business by automating their business processes with middleware technology. The automation of processes and the ability to access in real time relevant information from diverse systems to gain greater insight, decreases costs associated with a staff member performing the setup manually. It also reduces the cycle time and ultimately increases the total volume of business due to increased simplicity of customer interactions.
- Rapid innovation – Product development cycles need to be shorter to introduce new, innovative products before competitors. An IT landscape of reusable software services will help the business roll out new products and services faster while maintaining lower development costs.
2. Consider the change in the light of overall IT strategy. For example, you may be implementing mobile applications in which case the new middleware must be capable of supporting pervasive computing and WAP enabled devices.
3. Assess the features required. Typical features include asynchronous message queuing, message broking which facilitates synchronous and more closely integrated processes, support for distributed transactions, security, access to legacy systems, and support for small mobile devices. You can read more about SOA Suite selection in our whitepaper here.
4. Look at the products. Many suppliers call their products middleware, but with wide differences in functionality, capability and all round coverage. A key point to consider is what level of integration is needed.
5. Run a pilot project. Especially if a major change of middleware right across an enterprise is being considered.
6. Start by migrating just one application. If the new middleware cannot cope, perhaps lacking sufficient support for key emerging standards such as Compact XML for small devices, then it is less costly to withdraw at this stage.
7. Review the initial migration thoroughly before committing the whole enterprise.
8. Determine the roadmap for future platform evolution, skills required, and define the enterprise’s own middleware architecture accordingly. Don’t rely entirely on the supplier for this.
9. If all appears well, plan the full roll-out.
However, if any of this appears daunting, help is at hand. We’ve been in the integration business for years, why not contact us and get some advice before you get started? We have seen our approach save many customers time and money, and potentially a big headache somewhere down the line. In addition, you can maximise on your investment and ensure you get the full benefit from whatever solution you have selected, and be sure you’ve implemented it in the best way possible, with the minimum disruption.
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