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What is Middleware and Why Should You Care?

Bill Onion
January 29, 2015 | 10:54 AM

middleware-comparisonThe decision to add eCommerce to your environment, and then integrating that into an already established ERP system, involves a lot of consideration.

When it comes to communication, we have found that using a middleware tool is one of the best options for integration.

Middleware is a piece of software that connects disparate computer systems and allows them to talk. This is usually accomplished by trading XML documents but it can also be achieved by trading flat files, a CSV or some other proprietary data element. Some middleware allow you to change the format of the content, such as entering a CSV file on one side and receiving an XML on the other side. Regardless, all middleware allow for secure transmission of data from one point to the other.

The systems generally plug in through an API or web service on either side of the connection. Both the ERP and eCommerce sides have mechanisms for communication and the middleware sends the data from one side to the other. This allows the systems to run without worrying about what the other system is doing. So, if one system were to go down for any reason, it doesn’t affect the operations of the other system.

One of the many advantages of utilizing middleware is that it allows you to upgrade on either the ERP or eCommerce side without significantly altering the integration. As long as the plug-in points don’t change, the middleware just keeps on running. This makes software upgrades a non-event from the integration perspective.

Additionally, these middleware pieces typically allow for a “one to many” type of integration. If you have multiple systems flowing into the ERP, the integration to the ERP is set up only once, the middleware is plugged in, and that allows the other pieces to hook up to the ERP. For example, let’s say you are integrating three eCommerce instances with one ERP. Instead of three full integrations, a six-step process, the integration takes place once on the ERP end and then once on each of the three other aspects. This allows for scalability and efficiency.

Four Reasons to use Middleware in your eCommerce project

  1. One of the big reasons we like middleware is that it simplifies the communication process. It prevents the need for a bunch of code reaching across the wire from the eCommerce end to the ERP engine and vice versa. With middleware, those disparate systems don’t need integration built directly into them, nor do they affect the operations of the other. By utilizing middleware, the two systems are not forced to talk directly to each other, but to communicate through the middleware.
  2. Because middleware is now the communication channel between the systems, all monitoring of your integration takes place in one system. This allows you the opportunity to execute built in redundancies, back ups, alerts, and monitors within that one system. This built-in security keeps the data safe as it travels across the wire.
  3. Another reason that we love to use middleware is that it avoids the need for a bunch of custom coding in the ERP or eCommerce engines. That allows your upgrades to be a whole lot cleaner and easier, and it lets the systems do what they need to do without reaching across the wire.
  4. One of the most crucial reasons that we use middleware is that it allows both systems to operate independently. If one system is down for maintenance, the other system continues to operate. The messages between the two simply queue up in the middleware system until the other side becomes available. This means that communication drops, nightly processing, or any other interruptions that may occur do not hinder the systems.

We use Mule ESB for our integration tool of choice. It is fast, stable, and has a strong track record in the industry. We have found it to be easy to work with, and it gives us many options for file formats and communication methodologies.

Explore your options by downloading this Middleware Tech Guide  

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