Microservices Matters

Mar 8 2016   10:11PM GMT

Did APIs kill enterprise middleware?

Fred Churchville Fred Churchville Profile: Fred Churchville

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Enterprise application integration has traditionally relied on software-based middleware solutions in order to connect critical internal and client-facing applications to important backend systems and resources. But is enterprise middleware, as we know it, dead in the ground?

Last August, Romi Stein, CEO and co-founder at OpenLegacy Inc., wrote up a blog post titled “An Ode to Middleware,” in which he pronounces the death of traditional, software-based application middleware and that new API-based approaches to EAI shall rise in its place.

According to Stein, middleware may have actually done itself in. He points to three key aspects of traditional middleware that cause problems for developers:

  • No standards: There are just too many different types of middleware to create a standard around the disparate languages.
  • Cost: If you don’t want to develop your own enterprise middleware using expensive RAD tools, you essentially are forced to buy commercial software.
  • Developer needs: Middleware helps manage specific runtime behavior, but developing, testing and validating software still requires additional tools.

APIs have come into the picture, said Stein in his blog, by allowing developers to expose their backend services without having to create custom code or modify legacy systems.

“Building on the ideals of middleware, APIs provide an open, standards-based approach to integration. Unlike its predecessor, an API is not a piece of software. Instead, it is a fully functioning integration point that developers can use in their own programs to call any legacy asset,” said Stein.

While it may seem that a company like OpenLagacy would have an invested interest in touting the demise of traditional middleware and ramping up support for API-based application integration, there are still compelling arguments in what Stein says may be at least mostly true. It was not that long ago, in fact, that tech analysts were claiming that enterprise middleware was being killed by the emergence of PaaS solutions. Now, while it doesn’t seem that PaaS was able to completely suck the life out of middleware, the extent to which APIs will shake things up may yet to be seen.

Zeev Avidan, also of OpenLegacy, said that the rise of mobile has also forced companies to adopt the concept that middleware is not necessary for integration anymore. An idea, he said, that people find somewhat hard to grasp, especially when integration teams are very invested in middleware infrastructure.

“[The middleware is] where the governance is; that’s where they have control,” said Avidan. “Letting go of this control I think is a major challenge.”

Though Avidan admittedly doesn’t believe that middleware is completely dead, he does think that the number of logical use cases it presents in the enterprise is swiftly dwindling.

“The types of scenarios [middleware is required for] are really limited to I would say 20% of the [use cases]…for 80% of the cases, there will be a trend towards digital back-end and solutions like [MBaaS] that [go] point-to-point from your back-end to your mobile APIs,” said Avidan. “I don’t think the middleware will die necessarily, but I think its functioning will be much more limited.”

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  • Damusset
    Hi, you say that "“The types of scenarios [middleware is required for] are really limited to I would say 20% of the [use cases]…" : which cases are you thinking about? thanks

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  • Fred Churchville
    Hi Damusset,

    It was a quote from an interview I did a while back...he didn't say specifically, but if I had to guess I would say it's probably things like high-level financial transactions (banks, trading), legacy systems, or the operation of systems that are extremely sensitive security-wise. I'm sure there are others though.

    Just as an end-note to that, I'd add that when deciding when and where APIs should play a role vs traditional middleware, there's no clear cut answer of "definitely this," or "definitely that." It's up to software management teams to decide what makes sense for their own individual use cases (think about your own security needs, costs, development capabilities/skills, etc.)
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