Without middleware to translate, wireless would be no further along than square one

By Ephraim Schwartz, InfoWorld |  Networking

IF THERE WERE an award for the most important technological concept of the past 20 years, to my mind there would be no question of the winning conception: No other technology comes close to middleware.

Wireless would be useless without it. Can you imagine building or rewriting a database that is entirely separate from your company's current system just so that company employees could get at corporate data?

IBM last week announced two pieces of middleware for wireless access to and execution on the back end.

The first is iSeries Management Central. iSeries is the new name for IBM's AS/400 server line, which probably can be found in some of the biggest and some of the newest corporations, from Krispy Kreme to Colgate-Palmolive.

Management Central is a piece of middleware that will allow an operator, or whoever runs the day-to-day operations in a machine room, to access and monitor the performance of the system and applications from a cell phone or a Palm device. But it does more than monitor. It can execute commands as well, including starting and restarting jobs. Basically, it is management console software on a handheld.

"If you're running payroll processing, you can see if it has finished processing; or if there was a problem, you can restart it," said Ian Jarman, iSeries product manager in Rochester, Minn.

The middleware will ship in May with the next revision of the iSeries and will be part of the OSes bundled with the iSeries, including OS/400 and AIX.

The other neat piece of middleware coming out of IBM is XML DB2 Extender. This component is now in trial stage at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.

The middleware allows you to convert data from a DB2 database into XML and render it to a wireless device. As all good middleware should, it becomes the critical link to a business application.

The Venetian has its room inventory, check-in, and guest database on iSeries. If you've ever gone to Las Vegas for one of the big shows such as Comdex, you know the nightmare extends beyond waiting a half hour or more in line for a cab at the airport. If your timing is right when you finally arrive at the hotel, you will be faced with yet another line at check-in.

Well if the pilot program at the Venetian works out, next time you arrive, a roving check-in agent will spot you as you come through the doors at any one of the half-dozen entrances to the hotel and check you in right there. It's like mobilizing the old "green screen" from the front desk.

The check-in agents will carry a Symbol Technologies-modified Palm device with attached credit card swiper and keymaker. Ethernet 802.11b access points will be placed around the hotel to link with the database.

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