Mashups: Innovation or IT Nightmare?

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2008-02-11

Mashups: Innovation or IT Nightmare?

NEW YORK--A growing conflict is emerging within enterprises between the need to enable innovation through mashups and the need to govern the results of these new services.

A mashup is a Web application that combines data or services from more than one source into a single integrated application. The rise of Web services and mashup tools have made it increasingly easier for individuals and departmental users to built productivity-enhancing applications.

But many of those mashups are made without the help of the central IT department in an enterprise, which gives rise to the need for governance.

This perceived need was the subject of debate during the 2008 Web Services/SOA on Wall Street conference here on Feb. 11.

Jonathan Marsh, director of mashup technologies at WSO2, a Web services and SOA (service-oriented architecture) infrastructure provider based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Mountain View, Calif., said WSO2 is focused on Web development and making Web applications more quickly. WSO2 focuses on open-source and Web 2.0 technology as the core of its solution set.

"Soon mashups will be built into the infrastructure," Marsh said.

Miko Matsumura, vice president and deputy chief technology officer at Software AG, Reston, Va., said, "the goal of governance is you don't have to trust the people who are mashing up things like crazy. You don't have to trust people; you just constrain them in a way that benefits the enterprise."

Kelly Emo, SOA product marketing manager at Hewlett-Packard, said the use of the word governance tends to carry the notion of lockdown and control. "We don't mean it that way. The idea of implicit governance is to let IT get ahead of the curve and plan. Then you can understand how much consumption you can support. You get ahead of it."

In this way, IT departments can ensure that services are 'mashable' and consumable. "It's like being on the road driving‑you're not even aware that you're being governed," Emo said.

Both HP and Software AG sell popular SOA governance solutions. Serena Software sells a mashup tool to help less technical users in an enterprise create mashups that empower their departments.

Innovation vs. Governance

Rene Bonvanie, senior vice president of marketing at Serena, based in San Mateo, Calif., said that governance should take a back seat to innovation.

"There's not a lot out there to be governed," Bonvanie said. "I think innovation is what's more at stake here than governance. The thing is, how can we get enough people to do mashups and make them more innovative?"

Added Bonvanie: "We've overestimated the need for governance and underestimated the need for innovation."

HP's Emo said that IT needs to ensure that services are mashable and consumable, "because you don't actually know where that innovation is going to come from."

Matsumura used a biological analogy to describe mashups. "Mashups are essentially sexual reproduction for applications because the DNA of two different things are brought together."

Cameron Purdy, vice president of development of Fusion middleware at Oracle, quipped: "And following on the sexual reproduction analogy, mashups are hot and sticky."

Purdy said that mashups could succeed in ways that SOA-inspired frameworks have not, at least initially. "SOA did not take off the way people in the ivory towers thought it would." However, "I think Web services have become the focal point for so many technologies. We're starting to see [that] screen scraper tools are starting to produce Web services APIs."

Purdy also noted that he has seen more SOA implementations in the financial services industry than in most any other industry, "but we've probably seen fewer mashups coming out of financial services."

He speculated that this could be the case because of the risk of aggregating public information with financial services.

Purdy said he believes the industry will see tools traditionally used in financial services‑like Excel‑used as springboards for mashups.

Marsh said he expects that there will be a lot more use of community-based technologies entering the enterprise.

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