Thursday, December 31, 2009

Oracle Redefines Middleware

Oracle Fusion Middleware 11g is the first real attempt to integrate the Oracle Fusion suite with the recent BEA products it acquired in 2008. According to Oracle this "Completes the integration of BEA into Oracle".

Oracle seems to be redefining "middleware" to include such things as Business Intelligence, Content Management and Collaboration which has typically been considered user-facing software. At the other end of the software stack Oracle looks at infrastructure services such as virtualization utilities.

"We take a broad view of what is included in Middleware" Rick Schultz of Oracle says on his podcast. According to the materials that Oracle make available, Middleware seems to be defined as a "Set of components that all applications need". This includes
  • User Interaction (Web 2.0, RIA, Mobile, Search)
  • Enterprise Performance Management (Planning, Budgeting, Scorecards)
  • Business Intelligence
  • Content Management
  • SOA and Process Management
  • Application Server
  • Grid Infrastructure
  • Development Tools
  • Enterprise Management
  • Identity Management
Depending on the spin, redefining middleware could be a good or a bad thing. I always felt I understood what middleware was. I agree with Wikipedia that "Middleware is computer software that connects software components or applications." To put it more plainly it is the glue that holds together different parts of a computer application and helps integrate computer applications.

The Oracle list is huge, and I suggest Oracle needs to come up with another name for all this software infrastructure (like Software Infrastructure Suite) which does not suggest it is simply the glue that holds the application together. User facing software infrastructure such as Web 2.0 collaboration facilities, Search, budgeting software, score card software and business intelligence is much more user facing than most custom built software. Other products on the list are part of the operating environment. This is infrastructure that the software developer should have little concern with.

This is not to say that the Oracle Suite is a bad idea. We have to accept that with SOA there is far more of an application that can delivered out of the box rather than written anew by developers. True middleware such as the ESB, is still a significant part of the Oracle Suite but the other components also need to be part of the solution architecture. Oracle focuses on some important aspects from the traditional middleware space including:
• Support for SCA (SOA Component Architecture).
• Support for Event Driven Architecture.

Oracle now has a concerted push to explain its offering to the world. This has resulted in seminars and workshops around the world. I attended a couple and they are worth the time to get an idea about what Oracle is proposing. I wish to thank the presenter for the descriptive term "Marketecture" (aka Marchitecture). This term seemed to gain popularity through Dilbert cartoons in 2009, after having some more serious uses back in 2003. Marketecture is the IT architecture as presented by marketing people and therefore has limited detail and may bear little resemblance to the technical architecture.

In conclusion, there seems to be much goodness in the new Oracle Suite. SOA can benefit from a large number of products to support the approach. Oracle Suite is much more than middleware, but Oracle should not try to cover everything under the "middleware" term just because its long list of acquisitions allows it to do so.

Other references:, Marketect cartoon, Marketecture vs Tarchitecture, Architecture Marchitecture (spelt differently but same idea), The list of products in the Oracle Middleware stack, Overview of Oracle Middleware

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