The next big change in Internet-based computing will be one that most users wont see. And thats a good thing. Last week, IBM was the latest to trumpet its plans for middleware offerings that may finally deliver on the promise of Internet-based computing. Aside from the ongoing irony of what was once the most proprietary computing company in the world affirming, reaffirming and restating once again its allegiance to open standards, what IBM had to say was worth a listen. For IBM, just as with the other big names in computing, the action this year will be in middleware.
While listening to pitches for middleware can sound an awful lot like the salespeople in Home Depot discussing the various glues in the adhesives aisle, making the right choice on middleware will be instrumental in determining your companys computing infrastructure.
Should you go with the WebSphere lineup from IBM or Suns iPlanet products? What about jumping on the Microsoft .Net initiative? Or joining Larry Ellisons war on complexity at Oracle? And what about that new company from one of the pioneers of middleware? Zack Rinats Model promises all the benefits of seamless business-to-business computing without marrying you to a major vendor.
The Internet revolution in middleware computing is the opposite of what happened in the rise (and fall) of the dot-coms. Your efforts and promises in dot-com computing were immediately visible to everyone with a browser. Your online pet food store, your online bookstore and your online newspaper could be designed, funded and deployed in a day. That you had no inventory, no financial system and no way to deliver on your orders was hidden from everyone until the crash.
In middleware, only you—the application developers and the computing architects—can see what is going on. Developing a computing architecture that can tie in all your business processes and extend those processes to your customers is a difficult task that can tax the best developers.
But the benefits of all that effort can be extraordinary. Last week, I met with a company that is still under wraps and is attempting to build a system that can cut half the time and half the costs out of the insurance claims network. As we went over the architecture the company is attempting to create, it sounded like a parade of some of the biggest computing vendors and some of the hottest startups all coming together in one system. This system has to be rock solid and secure from Day One and is an example of where the smart investment money is going in computing. Rather than take an idea, throw it up on the Web and see what happens, it is better to go into stealth mode and build a reliable system where the traditional companies can find an immediate return on investment. And that is where making the right middleware choices spells the difference between success and failure.