When I was an IT infrastructure director in a previous life, I thought that the term “middleware” was something of a dirty word. I viewed it as inelegant — something that gummed up the works of applications rather than streamlining them (not to mention giving me just one more thing I needed to manage).

I’m happy to report that I’ve since seen the light.

End users may never directly see middleware solutions, and even leaders in retail organizations might not appreciate the effort that goes into developing them. But modern middleware applications that incorporate containers and microservices are essential for tying disparate systems together — especially in a retail environment.

The Benefit of Small Steps

Even today, IT shops within some retail organizations resist developing multiple middleware tools, and instead try to create all-in-one applications that tie everything together in a single, unified solution. In my experience, this is a mistake — and potentially a costly one. There are two likely outcomes to this all-or-nothing approach. First, retailers may simply never finish building out their applications; by trying to achieve everything at once, they may instead achieve nothing, despite dedicating significant resources to their integration efforts. And even if retailers do finish building out these larger applications, the programs they create may quickly become obsolete. When every system is tied together without the aid of multiple middleware programs, it can be extraordinarily difficult to make changes. The application becomes like a Jenga tower, liable to collapse if any of its building blocks are moved around. This is especially concerning for retailers that want to maintain flexibility between vendors.

Retailers that take a more agile, step-by-step development approach — which may incorporate multiple middleware programs — have a better chance at succeeding with their application strategies. Today, these organizations have the option of using containers and microservices, both of which simplify the development process and increase the value of middleware programs.

Boost the Bottom Line

With containerized middleware services, developers are able to build their applications in the same environment that will be deployed when the application is in full production, and can have confidence that the application will work on different operating systems. The term “microservices” is slightly more slippery, meaning different things to different organizations; but under one common definition of the term, it refers to services that are developed, deployed and scaled independently, and aren’t specific to any one technology. Together, containers and microservices can help retail organizations speed up their time to market for IT applications.

These development processes address the reality of current retail IT environments. Many organizations rely heavily on legacy systems that are difficult to upgrade. The impulse to “rip-and-replace” these systems, or to create a single application that brings them all together, is understandable. Many developers are attracted to simplicity, and favor solutions that have fewer moving parts. However, it’s important for development teams to remember their ultimate goals: to help employees be more productive, to enhance the customer experience and to boost the bottom line. And often, the thing that will allow IT shops to accomplish these goals is modern middleware.

Learn more about how CDW’s solutions and services can help retailers overcome their IT challenges.

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