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IBM's Mashup Suite Aims To Increase Enterprise Adoption

The company's Mashup Center and WebSphere sMash make it easier for both developers and information workers to create and use mashups.

IBM's Mashup Hub acts as a catalog of mashups and shows how they've been built.
(click image for larger view)

IBM's Mashup Hub acts as a catalog of mashups and shows how they've been built.

IBM on Monday released a Web-based suite of tools to let businesses develop and manage enterprise mashups, pushing the company further into a market that's seen significant hype.

Applications that combine disparate streams of data like maps and shipping information are popping up all over. But despite increasing awareness, mashups are still anything but commonplace in business.

Even IBM, which has been touting the potential benefits of mashups for the last two years, says that mashups are still just in beginning stages and that no IBM client yet has any "mainstream development" of mashups. "As a broad thing, it is very much in its infancy," Anant Jhingran, VP and CTO of information management in IBM's Software Group, said in an interview.

One reason that's true is that until recently, enterprise mashups had been the exclusive provenance of small startups like Kapow, Serena Software, and Apatar. In the last few months, however, larger companies like Oracle and IBM have joined the fray.

IBM's new suite, which includes Mashup Center and WebSphere sMash, aims to make it easier for both developers and information workers to create and use mashups. Mashup Center includes Mashup Hub, which acts as a catalog to register feeds of information available for use in mashups, and Lotus Mashups, which allows even nontechnical employees to merge, filter, or publish information in those feeds into new mashups. Lotus Mashups follows in the footsteps of Microsoft's Popfly and Yahoo Pipes, but is aimed specifically at enterprises, unlike those two.

The other half of the suite, WebSphere sMash, formerly known as Project Zero, is a development environment aimed at enterprise developers. WebSphere sMash supports dynamic scripting languages like PHP and employs REST and can be used to create an application that mashes up disparate Web and server- or client-based information as well as to create the actual user interfaces for those applications.

Mashups have yet to prove themselves widely, Gartner analyst Gene Phifer said in an interview. "It's unproven, especially in mission-critical use cases," he said. "A lot of organizations are therefore still not ready to take the risk there."

In addition to a market that's just starting to form, Phifer said security concerns and the risk of poorly designed mashups make some companies wary. Mashups typically don't have any inherent security, instead relying on the existing security of the sites and applications that are being mashed, so security becomes a bit of a black box unless mashups are enveloped in their own security wrapper. But that defeats the purpose of the quick, dirty, and easy combination of information inherent in many mashups.

With some of the consumer-oriented mashup tools, Phifer said, end users can very easily create inefficient mashups. For example, if looking for a piece of information that it can't find, a badly designed mashup might create an endless loop of server requests that could quickly overwhelm a Web server.

Since major companies like Oracle and IBM are giving mashups a deeper look, it's likely that some of these worries will go away with time and new offerings. Until and even beyond that point, Gartner recommends companies monitor the creation of mashups and put some lightweight controls on their development, while also looking to put service-level agreements in place with companies like Google from which mashup data often originates.

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