Middleware is a very broad term that can be defined as a translation layer between different applications and encompasses a number of different technologies, such as message-oriented middleware and database middleware. B2B middleware though has a narrower definition and is concerned first and foremost with routing data from a firm’s business applications to the applications of business partners such as customer, suppliers or banks.
Data must be extracted from the source system, which might be an ERP system or securities trading platform or an HR system whether it is an installed system or, as is increasingly the case, a cloud-based system. Data can be extracted using an API or specialized middleware supplied by the enterprise application.
Once the data has been extracted, it must be correctly formatted so that it can be shared by a completely different system. Typical standard formats are EDI or XML. However, each of these formats has specific variants specific to particular vertical industries. When the data has been formatted, it must then be transmitted to the business partner and, once again, there are a number of different network protocols such as HTTP-baaed AS1 and AS2, or FTP to support B2B integration.
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What is Middleware?
Middleware is the software that connects network-based requests generated by a client to the back-end data the client is requesting. It is a general term for software that serves to "glue together" separate, often complex and already existing programs.
Middleware programs come in on-premises software and cloud services, and they can be used independently or together, depending upon the use case. While cloud providers bundle middleware into cloud services suites, such as middleware as a service (MWaaS) or integration PaaS (iPaaS), industry researchers note that many businesses still choose independent middleware products that fit their specific needs.
How middleware works
All network-based requests are essentially attempts to interact with back-end data. That data might be something as simple as an image to display or a video to play, or it could be as complex as a history of banking transactions.
The requested data can take on many different forms and may be stored in a variety of ways, such as coming from a file server, fetched from a message queue or persisted in a database. The role of middleware is to enable and ease access to those back-end resources.
In general, IT industry analysts -- such as Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research -- put middleware into two categories: enterprise integration middleware and platform middleware.
Businesses can purchase individual middleware products or on-premises or cloud-based application integration suites.
- Platform middleware supports software development and delivery by providing a runtime hosting environment, such as a container, for application program logic. Its primary components are in-memory and enterprise application servers, as well as web servers and content management. Middleware includes web servers, application servers, content management systems and similar tools that support application development and delivery. Generally, embedded or external communications middleware allows different communications tools to work together. These communications tools enable application and service interaction. Resource management services, such as Microsoft Azure Resource Manager, host application program logic at runtime, another key function in platform middleware. Other components include Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) and in-memory data grids (IMDGs).
Platform middleware products are also available as specific on-premises or cloud service tools, as well as multitool suites. On a cloud suite site, middleware as a service offers an integrated set of platform tools and the runtime environment.