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Enterprise mashup software: Where are we now?

Finding stability in today's enterprise mashup environment can be a challenge. Expert Mike Ogrinz explains the current situation and offers practical advice for building new mashups.

Turmoil marks the realm of enterprise mashups. New products surface and older products just fade away. In 2011, how can one establish stability for a new mashup "solution"?

Most of the “new” technologies I encounter are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It’s logical that given the established range of products and services already available to IT, that incremental improvements to existing offerings should outnumber pure innovations.

However, anyone with a few years’ experience in the field has undoubtedly encountered the “solution looking for a problem” product. Normally, these products follow one of three predictable paths. Sometimes, the world realizes what a great product this is, and the product takes off. Salesforce.com is a great example. Other times, the idea never catches on and it dies on the vine. Google Wave comes to mind. But it’s the third case – and its relevance to mashups – that warrants closer examination.

When a company has invested a lot of time and effort into developing a product and yet is still unable to find a market, it has two choices: Go belly up, or try and create demand (we’ll dismiss the dot-com era “get acquired!” exit strategy for this post). Building a market for a budding product is a huge and expensive effort but there’s an easier way to achieve this goal: Rebrand!

By re-positioning a product or service as something that meets an already recognized (and hopefully underserved) need, a firm stands a good chance of recognizing at least some revenue. And hopefully this capital injection lets them refine their product to serve the vertical or horizontal slice they’ve decided to focus on. At the end of the cycle, the “radical new product” has in fact evolved from both a technical and marketing perspective to become a well-understood solution to a well-defined problem.

We haven’t reached that stable end-state yet with mashups. When the term “mashups” was first applied to HousingMaps.com back in 2005, the idea of data integration certainly wasn’t new. But the discipline received so much press and was so poorly defined that it provided a great opportunity to jump on the bandwagon for many firms.

We’re still in a state of flux right now, as products continue to enter and exit the field. Let’s look at a few of the early players in the space and where they are now:

•         Denodo:
Then: An enterprise data services product, Denodo saw Mashups as a variation on data integration. They repositioned themselves (and EII) as players in the space.
Now: Denodo has returned to a pure Data Management message, with some emphasis on SaaS and SOA.

•         JackBe:
Then: Originally a robust widget framework, JackBe made a smooth transition into allowing non-developers to visually assemble software modules (aka “mashlets”) into new solutions.
Now: Still strongly waving the Mashups banner, their most recent version provides an “Enterprise App Store” to allow users to share their creations more easily.

•         Kapow Software:
Then: Originally positioned as a player in the B2B space, Kapow found it’s tools well-suited to building APIs against closed web sites. This allowed them to easily pitch themselves as a “mashup enabler.”
Now: With Kapow Katalyst, the focus is less about using these APIs to power mashups, and more about integrating data and delivery to mobile devices.

•         Serena:
Then: A specialist in application lifecycle tools, Serena rebranded TeamTrack as Business Mashups and began an extensive marketing campaign to define mashups in terms of workflow tasks.
Now: Serena has backed away from mashups and is returning to its traditional roots.

If Serena, Kapow, JackBe, and Denodo migrated into the space, where are the pure plays? These companies would seem to give greater validity to the field since they entered it voluntarily. IBM released Mashup Center but this arguably grew out of a desire to monetize the popular QEDWiki platform. Convertigo, like JackBe, leveraged a widget framework (provided by DreamFace) but largely developed as a pure mashup offering. Google and Microsoft debuted Mashup Editor and Popfly respectively, and shuttered each a couple of years ago.

Normally, as an industry matures it’s natural to see some weaker players fall out and some consolidation occur. Dapper and NeedleBase were recently acquired by Yahoo and Google for example. Whether they will form the basis of new mashup offerings or just supplement existing tools remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the field has narrowed. Some firms, like Kapow or OpenSpan, are key enablers for mashups, but their marketing focus is elsewhere. JackBe, Convertigo, and IBM are among the remaining companies committed to expanding the marketplace with pure mashup-branded message. Still other vendors – especially in the portal space – have begun to incorporate basic mashup functionality into their products.

So, is the mashup marketplace coming apart at the seams? Is it un-mashing itself? I don’t think so. All indications point to us finally achieving a clear, concise understanding of what mashups are capable of, and this is helping to thin out the herd.

If you are venturing into this space for the first time, keep in mind that we are in a transition phase right now. Be wary of products whose companies bolted on mashup support or where you are locked into proprietary protocols and APIs. And as always, take extreme care when using mashups for mission-critical functions or where no amount of downtime can be tolerated. Because it’s not just the tools that are in flux; by their nature mashups are only as strong as the weakest system they leverage.

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