What is Middleware?
Implementing digital transformation in everyday business involves numerous challenges that a middleware solution can help to overcome. The hardware and software systems used in companies often come from different manufacturers and tend to be incompatible. Therefore, it is more urgent than ever that all these systems in the company work together seamlessly by communicating smoothly with each other. That is where middleware comes in handy. In our article, you will learn everything you need to know about middleware in industrial use and what significance the use of middleware has for digital transformation in the industry.
What is Middleware?
Middleware is software used to bridge the gap between applications and operating systems. It sits between an operating system and the applications that run on it to provide a method of communication and data management. This is useful for applications that otherwise would not have any way to exchange data – such as with software tools and databases.
Middleware is used commonly, as many organizations and developers use middleware to build applications more efficiently. For example, it can be used in application integrations to link both applications together. Organizations that use multi-cloud and containerized environments often use middleware as a more cost-effective way to develop and scale applications.
Some examples of middleware activities include its use in handling data and API management, authentication, and messaging services.
Why is middleware important to cloud computing?
As organizations move more toward cloud-native development, software developers and systems architects have had to focus on the up-front design and architecture of their application platforms. This requires selecting and setting up frameworks and capabilities for developing, deploying, and running applications — all functions handled by middleware. With these capabilities in place, an organization can get more benefits from the cloud. Applications can be deployed across multiple infrastructures, from on-premises systems to public clouds, and still work as intended.
Organizations turn to middleware — much of which is now offered as cloud services, simplifying deployment and management — as a way to manage complexity and to keep application development quick and cost-effective. Middleware can support application environments that work smoothly and consistently across a highly distributed platform. It can also support software supply chain security, DevSecOps strategies, and automation, helping teams build new and better apps faster while still managing security risks.
How does it work?
As we’ve seen in the definition: middleware steps in to provide a unified method for systems to communicate and interact with each other. It works through understanding and processing different operating languages. But apart from forming a communication bridge between applications, it also works in several other ways:
Uniting distributed parts within the application
An application is made up of lots of interconnected elements operating in distributed locations within your integration system. Middleware helps tie all these elements together so that the user can operate the service from a single entry point.
Bringing systems together
Your enterprise is composed of different hardware, operating systems, and communication protocols. Middleware allows these different systems to work together while masking their differences.
Provides Uniform standards
It helps developers with a high-level uniform standard – a solid guideline – that they can use to build applications.
Providing a common framework
It also cleans up any duplication of elements and empowers interoperability between applications by providing a common framework for general functionalities.
So with middleware, application development becomes easier. It truly is the glue in your technology stack and goes beyond enabling communication between applications. Now that you have an understanding of what middleware is and how it works, it’s a good moment to take a look at the core functionalities of middleware.
What are the benefits of using middleware?
Networking applications and software components with each other and creating communication between distributed systems, devices, and applications brings numerous advantages:
- Networking: Devices, machines, and controls at the OT level and systems at the IT level no longer work in isolation from one another but are networked together.
- Digitalization: Through networking, middleware contributes significantly to increasing the digitization rate in the company. Providing this as a basis, it continues to promote enterprise-wide digital transformation.
- Automation: The connection and networking of distributed system components offer the possibility of automated and transparent data exchange, which is significantly less error-prone and therefore more efficient.
- Process optimization: When all system components are interconnected and all data available in a company is captured and analyzed, this forms the basis for optimizing workflows and processes.
- Increasing efficiency: Transparent data transfers and optimized processes are accompanied by an increase in efficiency because resources can be better controlled and used. That also results in other benefits such as increased productivity, reliability, cost reduction, and quality assurance.
- Process reliability: Transparent data transfers and efficient processes mean that disruptions in production, for example, can be rectified quickly or do not occur at all.
- Reduction in complexity: A homogeneous system landscape is less complex and requires less administrative effort.
Types of middleware
There are many examples of middleware, each created to fulfill specific functions in connecting applications and web and cloud services together. Here are some of the most widely used types of middleware.
- Messaging middleware facilitates communications between distributed applications and services.
- Object or ORB middleware enables software components or objects to communicate and interact with a program, such as containers, across distributed systems.
- Remote Procedure Call (RPC) middleware provides a protocol that allows a program to request a service from another program located on another computer or network.
- Data or database middleware enables direct access to, and interaction with, databases; it typically includes SQL database software.
- Transaction or transactional middleware ensures transactions move from one phase to the next via transaction process monitoring.
- Content-centric middleware allows client-side requests for specific content and abstracts and delivers it; it’s similar to publish/subscribe middleware.
- Embedded middleware facilitates communication and integration between embedded apps and real-time operating systems.
What are the use cases?
Game developers use middleware as a game engine. For a game to work, the software must communicate with various image, audio, and video servers along with communication systems. The game engine facilitates this communication and makes game development more efficient.
Electronics engineers use middleware to integrate various types of sensors with their controllers. The middleware layer allows sensors to communicate with the controller through a common messaging framework.
Software developers use middleware to integrate different software components into other applications. Middleware offers a standard Application Programming Interface (API) to manage the required input and output of data from the component. The internal linking with the component is hidden from the user. Developers use the APIs to request the services that they need from the software components.
Software applications use middleware to send and receive data streams reliably. Data streams are a high-speed transmission of continuous data. They are important for reliable video and audio streaming.
Distributed applications are software programs that run on different computers on a network. They usually consist of frontend and backend applications. Frontend applications are software you use on a computer or mobile device, such as a social media app. By contrast, backend applications are software programs that handle data processing, business logic, and resource management tasks. Middleware communicates between the frontend and backend applications, so the distributed application works smoothly.
Middleware systems are important irrespective of whether you are working on cloud computing or any other environment with distributed applications. Middleware makes it easy for different hardware and software components to work harmoniously, irrespective of the design differences.