Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Predictions for the Future of Middleware

What is the future for middleware, especially in the enterprise? I would say there are two major trends in the industry.

One trend is the consolidation of middleware. The consolidation is reflected in the ever increasing number of pieces in the portfolios of companies like IBM. Now, IBM's portfolio is a hodgepodge of internally developed and acquired technologies that don't always play well together (or even work for that matter). Nonetheless, it is still a great example of the fact that a lot of enterprises want fewer vendors to work with, and will buy more from a single source. Of course, this is driven by a desire to have "one throat to choke". As I have said before, this is simply a myth. If you check out one of previous posts, you can get my full analysis of why this is a myth ("The Myth of One Throat to Choke").

This consolidation in the closed source world has the biggest affect on the smaller vendors who have specialized middleware. For example, companies like webMethods, who have been in the EAI space, or Sonic with their ESB product. They simple offer one small piece of what is needed by enterprise customers, so they will either be purchased, or whither and die a slow death, as their once standalone market is subsumed by the middleware suite vendors.

The other trend is the proliferation of open source middleware. Whether it be a simple solution like LAMP, or more comprehensive solution like the JBoss suite of middleware technologies, this market is growing, and to some extent starting to dominate the landscape. As enterprises continue to push the use of open source software and gain its benefits of higher quality, lower costs, empowerment for developers and support organizations, the sky is the limit.

These two trends are the only trends that show growth in middleware. Everything else is stagnant in the market. There may be some companies that can show growth with standalone solutions, but it is growth that will be temporary. As open source continues to mature, and big middleware players like IBM continue their march, the middle of the market will get squeezed out.

So when there are two middleware plays left in the market, the large platform or suite vendors (of which there might be two or three), and open source, what happens then?

Open source will continue to commoditize the middleware market, and the large platform players will have to either move out of middleware and up the stack, or they will have to join the open source party, and get behind existing open source efforts or try to forge their own communities. Mind you, this will take years, as enterprises don't change over night, but in my opinion it is inevitable!

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