Modernizing middleware-tier: How to evaluate your web application framework

Middleware-tier is integral for an organization to ensure user requests are processed quickly and securely, connecting users and facilitating the integration of legacy applications with distributed corporate data and applications. In web architecture, it can refer to web servers, application servers, content management systems and other tools that support application development and delivery – and it is integral for an organization to ensure user requests are processed quickly and securely.   

It’s the nexus for a distributed multi-tier architecture, enabling the decoupling of the data consumer from the data producer – for example, decoupling a database from applications. It provides access to a wide variety of services, databases, messaging services and connection to external enterprise services like SaaS, Cloud and IoT Event Streaming, which allow enterprises to deploy mission-critical applications in a scalable environment. This scalability occurs in the middle – not in an application and not in a database. What’s more, functionality, flexibility and security are also improved.   

Most organizations already have middleware-tier architecture in place. But how can an organization be sure its current web application framework is providing the best security and performance and is cost-effective?   

How to Evaluate Your Current Web Application Framework 

If you’ve been wondering recently whether your web application framework can use an upgrade, it’s time to perform a thorough evaluation of your infrastructure to confirm whether (or not) it’s still meeting the organization’s needs.    

  • How flexible is it – can it scale capacity as needed? 
  • How quickly can the organization cluster together multiple instances of its middleware in order to accommodate business requirements? 
  • What type of security protocols does it offer? For example, one of the most popular protocols is Apache J Server Protocol; but it is an open protocol – everyone has access to it, which increases the possibility of hacker attacks. 
  • What is the overall TCO? There are a couple of ways to look at cost – there is the cost of an actual product, and there are also costs associated with not being able to scale or not having the most optimally performing architecture. 
  • Are you fully leveraging virtualization? Application servers that are not optimized for today’s Software Defined Data Centers can be expensive to maintain over time, so having a product licensed for today’s virtualized environment is critical. 
  • How are licensing costs structured – and are you only paying for what you use, or are you paying for extra capacity you don’t need?   
  • Does the applications server conform to the latest J2EE standards? 
  • Is it high availability – if an application crashes and needs to be redeployed, how smoothly does that happen? 
  • How robust is the administration aspect? 

If the answers to any of these questions do not align with an organization’s security, throughput and productivity goals, then it may be time to explore a new middleware option. 

How to Choose a New Option 

When establishing a web application system in a multi-distributed environment, the most important issues for consideration are inflow and request control; load-balancing structure; security; and performance optimization. Each of these must be evaluated for any new framework. 

Client inflow and request control structure: A web application system structure must be able to handle massive client requests as well as provide effective management of specific node, application or URI standard requests. If massive requests come through the front end to the application server layer without any handling, it will be too late to control the requests. This is because it is difficult to handle the performance load if an attempt is made to control requests after load congestion already occurs.   

To resolve these problems, it is important to be able to control the inflow of requests before a problem occurs to the front-end web server. 

Load balancing: When configuring a web server and application server on multiple nodes, the configuration must support load balancing. Load must not be concentrated on a specific node when forwarding a request from a front-end web server to a back-end application server. A dynamic load-balancing function using an application server load is especially critical for optimized performance. 

Security: In general, when configuring the web and application servers, web servers are configured inside an extranet, while application and database servers are configured inside an intranet. A firewall is installed between the networks for security and a communication port is set between the web server and application server.   

These settings, as well as methods for communication and data exchange between each server group, are important for security control. 

Performance optimization: In a multi-node cluster environment, sessions are generally used for sharing application state information. Session information is managed by using a caching method where the cache hit ratio is the most important factor. 

This means that in a multi-node environment, it is important to increase the probability of accessing session information from the cache area, which affects web application performance. The cluster structure optimized for high performance is a core architectural component. 

Don’t Stick with the Status Quo 

With the growth of hybrid cloud workload deployments, the benefits of a well-architected middleware-tier can significantly improve performance in three ways: ensuring application portability across on-premise and public environments; facilitating high-availability architecture; and enabling DevOps productivity. 

To achieve these performance goals, it is sometimes necessarily for an organization to reevaluate the status quo – because what’s working now might not always work in the future. If you’re not questioning your current infrastructure and whether it’s performing at optimal levels, issues can crop up, and begin negatively impacting business goals, productivity and user experience. 

Make time to look at your current framework and ensure it is still meeting the organization’s needs. If it isn’t, it’s time to look elsewhere – and ensure that the inflow and request control; load-balancing structure; security; and performance optimization it offers are where your enterprise wants to be.

Franco Rizzo, Senior Pre-Sales Architect at TmaxSoft 

Image Credit: ProStockStudio / Shutterstock