Organizations have rushed to embrace middleware as the need to integrate applications throughout the enterprise has rocketed. Middleware knits together disparate applications–ranging from linking custom applications and package solutions to bridging the Web-to-database gap, and more. We nominated a range of products, from complete, high-level integration applications to the technical tools, and let you, the IT professional, choose the winner.
The winner of the Middleware Product of the Year award is ActiveWorks 3.0, application integration software from Active Software Inc., based in Santa Clara, Calif. The runners-up in this category, OrbixWeb from IONA Technologies PLC of Dublin, Ireland, and BEA M3 from BEA Systems Inc., in San Jose, tend to fall in the middle: They’re more sophisticated than low-level plumbing tools, yet they’re not at the level of high-end applications.
Still, the voting was close. ActiveWorks edged out OrbixWeb 29% to 24%, garnering 138 of the 477 total votes to OrbixWeb’s 114. BEA M3 followed with 20% (95 votes).
“We chose ActiveWorks for its flexibility and its low price. It manages data integrity very well and does very good queuing,” says Paul Chan, a Toronto-based managing partner at Cambridge Technology Partners, a systems integrator headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. “It will follow the integrity of every event from beginning to end.”
In terms of price, ActiveWorks costs far less than the popular enterprise integration applications, the middleware high end. “ActiveWorks certainly has to be considered one of the leading application integration solutions,” says Dave Kelly, a senior analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc., based in Framingham, Mass.
Cambridge Technology Partners uses ActiveWorks primarily to integrate packaged applications, such as customer relationship management from The Vantive Corp. in Santa Clara, with SAP R/3 from SAP AG of Walldorf, Germany. The results have been impressive. In one instance, the company was able to complete a customer’s integration project in six weeks from start to finish using ActiveWorks. Without ActiveWorks, Chan reports, the project would have taken six months.
ActiveWorks actually consists of a set of elements: broker, agents, and adapters. The broker resides on a server and processes requests coming to and from the clients. It automatically filters, queues, and routes requests. It opens secure, low-level communication channels, monitors activity, and guarantees delivery of the messages. Agents assist the broker by monitoring and delivering events, performing conversions, and managing processes through the use of business rules. The adapters represent the heart of the middleware, providing the intelligence to smooth the way between different systems. Adapters are available for leading packaged applications, relational databases, programming languages, mainframe systems, and even other middleware, such as Framingham, Mass.-based Object Management Group Inc.’s CORBA or MQSeries from IBM Corp., of Armonk, N.Y.
While middleware has the potential to quickly become a performance bottleneck, ActiveWorks avoids that problem. “We have never had a performance problem with ActiveWorks,” Chan says. One Cambridge Technology customer puts 5,000 transactions a week through ActiveWorks, with each transaction generating 20 separate database events for a total of 100,000 events per week, he says.
IONA Technologies’ OrbixWeb brings the company’s CORBA object request broker (ORB) technology to the Web application deployment challenge. It provides a pure Java ORB and gives Java programmers access through a common interface to applications written in C++, COBOL, and PL/1. OrbixWeb also includes IONA’s IIOP firewall technology. Additionally, it provides graphical utilities to ease configuration of development and deployment settings. Finally, it’s 100% CORBA-compliant.
Officials at BEA Systems describe BEA M3 as the first production-ready object transaction manager. In effect, BEA M3 is the company’s proven TUXEDO transaction middleware extended for object/component-based application development and deployment. It offers TUXEDO’s industrial strength capabilities, such as 100 transactions/second performance and support for over 4,000 concurrent users.
Alan Radding is a freelance writer in Newton, Mass., who specializes in business and technology. He can be reached at email@example.com.