Interview with Erica Langhi, senior solution architect EMEA at Red Hat

“Middleware is the often overlooked middle child of the software family”

Gabriela Motroc
Erica Langhi

Middleware is the tech behind the scenes, working to solve diverse and complex problems but a lot of people still don’t give it enough credit. We talked to Erica Langhi, senior solution architect EMEA at Red Hat, about the immediate benefits of middleware and its ability to power digital transformation.

JAXenter: In your opinion, what are the immediate benefits of middleware?

Erica Langhi: Middleware is a generic term for a broad set of technologies but in general we can say middleware acts as a bridge between an operating system or database and applications thus bringing the benefit of making your technologies work well together. Middleware is the often overlooked middle child of the software family – it’s the tech behind the scenes, working to solve diverse and complex problems like holiday bookings, electronic ticketing and payment card fraud detection.

It is ‘integration middleware’ that is now coming into sharp focus for organizations seeking to modernize their application environments. It bridges old and new technologies in a safe and meaningful way so that organizations can successfully maintain existing applications while harnessing the benefits of new agile architectures and tools.

[Middleware] bridges old and new technologies in a safe and meaningful way.

Middleware loves IoT and APIs

JAXenter: What are the current trends in middleware and how can we put them to good use?

Erica Langhi: One overarching conversation on middleware, or any piece of software nowadays, is security. Open source provides distinct security benefits, with thousands of skilled, dedicated developers across the globe continually testing the software. Red Hat JBoss middleware utilizes assets in the form of borrowed, collective human intellectual resources to continuously remedy security concerns. This is a great example of the so-called ‘Sharing Economy’ which will be a buzzword in 2017.

Middleware also sits right in the middle of the internet of things (IoT) discussion and is an important technology for enterprises looking to extend their value proposition to the IoT edge. IoT is rapidly creating new opportunities for enterprises to better connect with customers and partners, and intelligent gateways can help program smart edge devices in a secure execution environment in a way that makes good business sense. Middleware automates IoT data processing and decision making, completing processing faster and reducing unnecessary data traffic to data centers. This means that data that doesn’t need to go to the datacenter is filtered out, and only critical data is stored.

One sector where integration middleware can be a key differentiator going forward is the development of smart cities. More and more smart city initiatives are surfacing, and technologies that can act as a bridge between complex, disparate technologies such as smart devices, IoT applications and sensors and that can connect various hardwares and softwares together to make better sense of data will become essential for developing smart, connected infrastructure.

Middleware also sits right in the middle of the internet of things (IoT) discussion.

Last but not least, integration middleware is helping to drive the API economy. Essentially, an Application Programming Interface (API) is a customer interface for technologies that enables softwares to communicate. We live in an API economy, with business models and channels constructed to quickly and efficiently access or exchange data between departments, devices and geographies to increase profitability. Integration middleware democratises access to open data and services, promotes development of new innovative applications to connect people, and enables individuals and communities to improve everyday life.

JAXenter: More and more organizations struggle with integration problems due to the continuous development of new applications and mass data from various sources. How does middleware deal with this?

Erica Langhi: IT teams are coming under increasing pressure to deliver and manage these complex environments, especially when it comes to connecting data, applications and devices. In practical terms, being more digital often translates into being able to create new applications faster. This is where we see many organizations uncover an integration problem, which amounts to a spaghetti-like tangle of siloed systems and data sources that have built up over time. It can be hard to know where to start with untangling the glut of disparate systems and data sources when looking to develop new applications that must connect into them.

Integration middleware tidies up the back end, as well as providing a platform to build applications on, helping accelerate the delivery of new services to employees and customers. It can also enable organizations to do this agnostic of environment and device, so they have the flexibility to deploy applications on premise, in the cloud or a combination of both.

Integration middleware also helps automate business processes, reducing lengthy manual processes and ultimately providing the right information in the right place and at the right time.

JAXenter: How does middleware help organizations optimize data?

Erica Langhi: Many organizations are sitting on treasure troves of information – the challenge is accessing the right data at the right time, which means needing to process and contextualise it across a variety of sources. When CIOs are looking at becoming a connected enterprise, they should really be starting to think about data as a first class citizen — that is, treating data less like a static warehouse and more as a dynamic data fabric. Traditional integration approaches involve the cost and complexity traditionally associated with data warehouses or data pipeline techniques (traditional ETL – extract, transform, load – processes). Now, organizations can look to use middleware technologies to extort, move and share data at ease, using technologies like data virtualization.

CIOs should really be starting to think about data as a first class citizen.

Data virtualization can be used to implement a data access layer, which gathers together the underlying data and prepares it for analytics tools. This is a technique that offers accurate, reliable data in real time with no unnecessary data replication, reducing the cost of out-of-sync reports. In this way, organizations can achieve greater productivity and efficiency, unlocking data from silos into unified information at the speed of business.

JAXenter: How can middleware ensure organizations have the flexibility to adapt to changing business environments? Could you give us an example?

Erica Langhi: Middleware technology is designed to provide business flexibility and allow for future data and system maneuverability. Middleware sits beyond the operating system and as such can easily and sensibly integrate systems and share or move data that is spread across multiple applications and processes, which complements businesses looking to benefit from new applications using solutions such as microservices and containers.

Middleware empowers users with automated business processes and rules – and can do so no matter what existing or new technologies are in play – helping organizations respond rapidly to changing conditions.

A great example of an organization adapting to the pace of the digital age, and taking advantage of its wealth of data is the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which implemented a data access layer to support real-time data decisions. Many financial services organisations are faced with needing to capture more sophisticated information from different systems such as transactional, risk, ledger and static, and be able to deliver it over the right channel in the right way. Business intelligence teams with the right tools can mine this data and gain insights that can add great value to the business and the experience delivered to customers on an ongoing basis.

JAXenter: Do you think middleware can power digital transformation? Can it be a feasible solution?

Erica Langhi: The way I see it, integration middleware is part of the key for a modern architecture, and the organizations that recognise its strategic value can gain a head-start on the road to digitalization.

The days where you would keep your business logic embedded as application code are gone. In today’s changing world of engagement solutions, it no longer makes sense having to change your application code to reflect new business requirements, regulations, or a new sales bundle, and the same must be applied for cloud enabled or cloud native applications. Middleware allows for real time decision services that enable companies to run application business logic and rules outside of applications on a platform, which means they are ready to handle spikes and scale as needed.

Also, across industries, there will continue to be a need to connect your applications to other services or systems. Be it for new microservices-oriented workloads, connecting SaaS applications, connecting APIs, connecting IoT solutions, or the sharing of information between legacy systems. Integration middleware solutions that keep pace with tech evolution can provide the solution.

So absolutely, a bit like oil that greases the gears of a machine, middleware can become a critical component for enterprises and their digital transformation.

JAXenter: What clients have you delivered middleware technologies for, why, how, and to what effect?

Erica Langhi: Specifically for integration, we have delivered middleware technologies to a number of organisations spanning various industry sectors around the world.

One example is delivery specialist, Hermes. Previously, the company had to undertake a two-hour process of manually batching data and pushing out into customer-facing web applications. However, to better track delivery information for its customers, Hermes chose to automate this process and turned to Red Hat for the solution. As a result, since deploying our integration middleware software, this process now takes just 60 seconds to complete.

Another customer that has enjoyed the benefits of middleware technology is Telegraph Media Group. The company’s middleware-powered integration platform has simplified the launch of compelling new digital content to audiences on desktop, tablet and smartphone devices. This makes it easier for the company to respond rapidly to developing global news, giving readers new insights into unfolding situations in content formats that are easy to consume—encouraging interaction and building engagement with TMG’s brands.

Finally, the NHS Foundation Trust at King’s College London worked with Red Hat to bring in a new integration platform to enable more than 50 hospital systems to exchange critical patient information quickly and reliably. This means from the moment a patient enters the hospital’s care and throughout their treatment, data about them is being entered by both administrative and clinical staff into a wide range of multidisciplinary systems, allowing medical professionals to be better informed when it comes to patient care. Also, because of Red Hat’s subscription model, KCH staff has round-the-clock access to service, support, and software upgrades and updates.

Thank you very much!

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Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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