IBM's single package untangles middleware

IBM attempts to simplify its tangle of transactional middleware software by wrapping several products in a single, easy-to-use package intended to make it easier to build e-commerce applications.

Mike Ricciuti
Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
3 min read
IBM (IBM) is attempting to simplify its tangle of transactional middleware software by wrapping several products in a single, easy-to-use package intended to make it easier to build e-commerce applications.

The company will next week introduce TXSeries, a bundle consisting of IBM?s Distributed CICS and Encina transaction processing monitor software; MQSeries message queuing software; DSSeries security software; and Lotus Domino Go Webserver.

While, for years, middleware has been crucial to companies like Visa International and American Airlines, it will become even more important as a growing number of businesses tack ubiquitous Web interfaces onto transactional systems, and open up vital business systems to millions of potential new users.

Analysts said TXSeries will let companies take the very big step of putting their businesses on the Web, without having to change their time-proven legacy systems. "It?s amazing how much users are unwilling to give up legacy interfaces," said Ted Schadler, an analyst with Forrester Research. "[TXSeries] works with those systems and new CORBA development."

Middleware--in all of its various forms--is becoming increasingly important as more companies expand existing client/server, mainframe, and simple Web-based information systems into new electronic commerce and order-entry applications. While middleware is vitally important, it?s also difficult for programmers to use, and hard to explain.

Transaction processing systems like CICS and Encina are traffic cop-like software layers that sit between client systems and corporate servers, making sure that new data entered by users, such as a sales order, gets recorded in the correct database. TP monitors, in conjunction with message queuing software, also make sure that all data is recorded and that no orders get lost.

Even Microsoft has discovered the value of middleware as it moves upscale into large businesses. The company earlier this year introduced Microsoft Transaction Server, a Windows NT-based system for handling component transactions.

IBM has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to middleware. The company has for years sold CICS, a mainframe-based system, to airlines, credit card companies, and hotels as a base technology for building reservation and order processing systems. CICS is in use at the majority of Fortune 500 companies, and many CICS applications have been on the job for decades.

But the company also has a confusing, and somewhat redundant pile of middleware that it is just now trying to untangle. Several years ago, IBM purchased Pittsburgh-based Transarc and its Unix-based Encina TP monitor. The companies have been busy ever since unifying the CICS and Encina code bases to make application development easier for users.

IBM has also been porting CICS to Windows NT and other popular operating systems, and linking all of its supported Unix, mainframe, and midrange systems together so that companies can build global transaction applications.

At the same time, IBM has been trying to shoehorn the Web into its middleware muddle, and is attempting to link popular Notes groupware software from its Lotus Development subsidiary into the equation.

The TXSeries bundle gives IBM a single package that the company can sell as an enabling technology behind its "e-business" strategy, and also serves as a bridge between the old world of proprietary CICS interfaces and the newfangled Java-based CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture)-compliant development, said Schadler.

Companies can use Web browsers or standard client applications to access TXSeries applications. The software will support a variety of Web client-to-server connection technologies, including CGI (Common Gateway Interface), Java servlets and applets, RPCs (Remote Procedure Calls), and CORBA?s IIOP (Internet Inter-ORB Protocol).

TXSeries is slated to ship by year?s end, said Mark Sherman, vice president of product management at Transarc. The software will run on Windows NT, Solaris, HP-UX, and AIX. Pricing has not been set, but Sherman said the company will either offer a single, unlimited user price, or server pricing plus per-user pricing.