2012 Channel Champions: Middleware

You'd be hard pressed to find many Channel Champs categories that have as much title turnover as middleware.

The middleware market has been a competitive one in recent years, with a three-horse race emerging among Microsoft, IBM and Oracle in the Middleware category. Three years ago, Oracle and Microsoft actually tied for the winning spot. In 2010, however, Microsoft took home the award behind strong scores for its partner program, and sales and marketing support.

Last year, IBM dominated the middleware category as its WebSphere application server swept all 14 criteria across each of the subcategories: technical, support and financial ratings.

But this year, Microsoft made a comeback and earned the top middleware spot once again, although it wasn't easy. Big Blue actually won the technical satisfaction rating by a comfortable margin at 81.4, to Microsoft's 78.2 and Oracle's 77.1. Microsoft, however, posted high scores in the areas of support satisfaction and financial factors rating. In the support subcategory, Microsoft did well in postsales support, and general availability of technical training. In financial factors, Microsoft came in with a respectable score of 82.9 in competitive pricing.

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Microsoft's BizTalk Server is an unsung hero for the software giant; it's not nearly as big a money-maker as franchise products such as Office and Windows, and it's not as well-known as other enterprise products such as SQL Server. But BizTalk Server has gained respectability in recent years (Microsoft itself called it "one of the most deployed integration servers in the industry"). The latest version of the middleware product was released in 2010, and it was the first release of BizTalk Server that featured integration with Microsoft's .Net 4.0 and Visual Studio 2010.

And there's more to come. In December, Microsoft announced that BizTalk Server 2010 R2 will be coming soon. In a blog post, the BizTalk Server development team said the new version will be a "cloud-ready" platform and come with improved licensing for cloud services and hosting as well as integration with forthcoming products like Windows 8 and Visual Studio 11.