The lowdown on middleware

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Middleware connects

What is it? Middleware is software that connects two systems'such as databases and Web applications, or even two networks'and lets them communicate.

Why do I need it? This type of software has been around for a long time, often used in connecting databases to other applications. It's getting renewed attention because of the push for e-government services and the data sharing demands involved in homeland security.

What's new? Greater use of open Web standards such as Extensible Markup Language and Java has caught on, as have graphical user interfaces, diagrams and other executive-friendly tools in management tasks, such as redesigning workflows.

Must-know info? If you're considering buying middleware, industry experts recommend asking for a live demo or proof-of-concept pilot, and checking customer references. They also advise that you don't underestimate the technical brainpower you'll need to design and manage middleware'typically not a strong point of government IT departments. And take claims of open-standards support with a grain of salt: A lot of middleware is acronym-compliant in its marketing literature but proprietary under the hood.

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