Visigenic Software acquired PostModern Computing - a CORBA object middleware vendor - earlier this year, and repositioned itself as a soup-to-nuts back-end middleware vendor. Visigenic's database and object-connectivity combination caught the eye of Netscape Communications, Platinum Technologies and Cisco Systems, which together invested $US8 million in the company last month and pledged to use its middleware in their respective products. IDG's Martin LaMonica caught up with Visigenic founder and CEO Roger Sippl (who also founded Informix Software in 1980) to talk about the growing importance of middleware.
ARN: Why did Netscape, Cisco, and Platinum turn to you for middleware?
RS: I think that middleware is hot now, it's an important subject and it's significant technology. Servers have been done well. I lived through that. When I was the CEO of Informix through the '80s, it took us pretty much the whole decade to do database servers well. And then in the latter half of the '80s and the early part of the '90s, 4GLs certainly made the client software solid, useful, and big-time.
I really think now is the time for the software in the middle to mature as an industry . . . in order to build applications that have an architecture where you can divide the application wherever you want, especially if you divide the application at the SQL interface to get good performance, because the middleware knows how to move database traffic efficiently. You just don't snap your fingers and build these products.
ARN: Are there going to be compatibility problems between CORBA and Microsoft's DCOM [Distributed Component Object Model]?
RS: It's really DCOM and Internet Inter-ORB Protocol for CORBA as the two protocols. And so I think there is an opportunity for a translator that translates between them. I think we'll have two object messaging protocols in the world. We won't have 12.
ARN: Is there going to be a greater role for middleware in the Internet applications architecture?
RS: I think middleware was growing as an industry anyway, but I think the Internet has certainly catalysed it. Ten years ago if you were to have told me that everyone is going to be talking about HTTP-this and HTTP-that, I'd say you're crazy.
The ability for people to conceive of something that is in the middle is really the major mental shift that has happened in the last year. And that has caused them to understand middleware better and will allow them to make more intelligent use of their middleware.
ARN: Don't you think that these middleware products, particularly CORBA, need to become easier to deploy in order to really start taking off?
RS: Absolutely. It's not so much that they need to be easier to deploy per se in terms of initially installing them, but to "deploy" in terms of using year after year.
Perhaps you've got it installed, it is running, and then twelve days later someone's application doesn't work any more. Well what went wrong? What monitors do you have to look at these states of communication between these clients and servers, these objects that are requesting services, and objects that are getting services? It would probably be additional agents inside an existing network management framework.
ARN: It seems that every major IS shop has CORBA in-house, but there aren't that many examples of mission-critical applications.
RS: I think there's a five-year start-up to all major paradigm shifts. I started Informix in 1980 to be the leading relational database vendor for the Unix operating system.
At the time there was serious doubt as to whether the relational data model would ever support business applications - whether or not it would ever be fast enough. There was also serious doubt that Unix would ever be a commercially viable operating system. That's where CORBA is today. I think next year the major questions to read about in the press will be: How good are your CORBA ORBs [object request brokers]? How good are your application monitoring utilities? How fast is your messaging? And how good is your database-to-CORBA object integration technology? Those will be the issues a year from now.