3 Middleware Software Tools: Comparison and Review

As the name suggests, middleware is a software layer that sits in the middle between separate applications – providing an interface that “glues” these programs together. The word “middleware” is a catch-all term that describes many of the applications most commonly in use today, such as web and application servers, database access services and content management systems.

Middleware is a form of infrastructure that enables complex business applications to take shape. Often, the original parts of such an application were not intended to communicate with each other, requiring specially designed middleware to bridge the gap between them. Each component of a complex application may be developed using different programming languages, protocols and platforms. Therefore, middleware provides services such as messaging, concurrency and threading that allows these components to “talk” to each other and execute at the same time.

Applications use middleware for a variety of reasons. Middleware can be used to “smooth over” the appearance of the application and hide its distributed nature, eliminating any differences in terms of operating systems, hardware or protocols. Using middleware also makes it easier for developers to have a uniform interface to work with, so different components of the application can be reused and ported to other locations.

In recent years, the industry has seen a shift to open-source middleware as more mature, stable solutions have emerged. Open-source middleware has much to recommend it: Users are free to modify the source code for their own needs and purposes, and you have full visibility and transparency into the solution so you know your applications are secure. Here’s a look at three of the most popular choices for enterprise middleware: Red Hat JBoss EAP, IBM WebSphere and Oracle WebLogic.

1. Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP)

Red Hat JBoss Enterprise Application Platform (EAP) is a mouthful of a name, and it packs a powerful punch as well. Version 7 of the software was released last year, providing a cloud-compatible, flexible solution for enterprises looking to increase their agility.

Benefits of JBoss EAP

  • Solid architectural foundation, with quick start-up times and low memory usage
  • Out-of-the-box integration with DevOps tools such as Maven, Jenkins and Arquillian
  • “JBoss Migration Center” at JBoss.org makes it simpler to move your existing applications
  • High-quality support, consistently outperforming the other two solutions in customer surveys

JBoss EAP Pricing and Support

A standard one-year subscription to JBoss EAP running on 16 CPU cores will cost your organization $8,000, which includes web and phone support during standard business hours. If you need premium support, which includes 24/7 assistance for problems of urgent and high-level importance, you’ll be paying $12,000 annually.

2. IBM WebSphere

IBM promotes its solution WebSphere Application Server as a high-performance, feature-rich option – the Ferrari to Red Hat’s Ford Focus, if you will. But are the advantages worth the higher price tag?

Benefits of IBM WebSphere

  • Rapid installation, deployment and development
  • Support for on-premises, cloud-based and hybrid solutions
  • Integration with other IBM products in the cloud, such as the Watson artificial intelligence and the dashDB SQL database service
  • Flexible, robust architecture that can scale to match demand

IBM WebSphere Pricing and Support

WebSphere Application Server is free of charge without support, and with a maximum heap size of 2 gigabytes for the Java Virtual Machine. After that, the cost to run IBM WebSphere is based on PVUs (Processor Value Units), which vary based on the type of processor you’re using. As of writing, the annual cost of a subscription and support plan was $55.25 per PVU, or $14,100 per limited use socket.

3. Oracle WebLogic

Last but certainly not least, Oracle WebLogic is the third contender when it comes to enterprise options for middleware – with much to recommend it.

Benefits of Oracle WebLogic

  • Oracle’s Enterprise Grid Messaging is a high-performance architecture for communication between applications
  • Hassle-free application deployment, resulting in lower operational costs
  • Oracle JRockit, at the hood of WebLogic, claims to be the “fastest JVM in the industry”
  • Easy integration with other Oracle applications and databases

Oracle WebLogic Pricing and Support

Oracle allows enterprise users to license WebLogic via either the number of users or the number of processors. An annual subscription will cost $5,000 per processor or $100 per user, as well as a license and support fee equal to $5,500 or $110 respectively. Multi-year and perpetual licenses are also available for purchase.

Final Thoughts

All three of these middleware solutions are strong options, so the choice ultimately comes down to your circumstances. If you rely on other products in the IBM or Oracle ecosystems, for example, then it makes sense to use their middleware offerings as well. In the end, it’s worth the effort to speak with sales reps about your organization’s particular situation, so you can be better informed and make the right decision for your company.