IT mashup tools

Mashup tools: enterprise enablers for the mashed age

Comprehensive tools enable businesses create their own mashed Web applications from multiple data sources. E&T looks at four leading examples.

Despite the freewheeling name, mash-ups have always needed tools and techniques. The term originated from musicians mixing instrumental tracks and voices into new songs, a process mash-up Web applications follow by combining data feeds from multiple Web sources and applications into one interface.

Mash-ups were harnessed by inventive Internet consumers and explorative Web developers who monkeyed around with the technology on a largely experimental basis; but businesses soon caught on to the potential of mash-ups' practicality and ease-of-use. This led software vendors to design mash-up creation tools.

Indicators agree that the potential for market growth is there, in part inspired by the 'open ethos' re-use/re-service approach promulgated by service-oriented architecture (SOA) technology. Research company Forrester reckons that sales of this type of software were worth a modest £106m in 2008; the figure is forecast to reach £1.14bn by 2013.

Mash-up platforms comprise three elements: software components that help users source and display different types of data, like portlets, widgets or gadgets; tools that allow developers to create mash-ups for others to use; and an underlying software infrastructure to manage, secure and maintain the new data combinations. The ability to source and present information from a wide range of different data formats, information feeds and Web transactions is critical. These commonly include HTML and dynamic HTML-based Web pages, applications that use various XML, JavaScript or JSON-based Web feed formats like RSS/CSS, ATOM, REST and SOAP (including its Web Services Security extension) to present or transfer information and languages like BPEL used to handle Internet transactions. Some enterprise mash-up tools also mine data from back-end databases, like SQL and JDBC.

The mash-up tool then helps define the data's complexity. Analyst Forrester divides mash-ups into three distinct categories, for example: presentation layer, data and process.

The presentation layer mash- up simply displays content from different sources in a single, unified view, often integrated within a standard HTML- or XML-enabled Web browser like Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. It is aimed at non- programmers or business users looking for simple tools to help find content, import widgets or portlets and integrate them, often with options which let them customise the interface, but without them making changes to the underlying code.

Data mash-ups go a step further by allowing the end-user to manipulate the different data sets on display. The process mash-up allows end-users not just to mix-up data sources, but also the underlying business processes - meaning that process design can be customised and business logic invoked across multiple applications.

Many mash-up platforms also provide tools which enable software developers to create the mash-ups for business users to customise. All the developer has to do is crease mashable components, 'mash' them together and define security and access policies around the new application which ring-fence sensitive data from other widgets and portlets that users import. The four enterprise mash-up build platforms profiled here represent examples of this type of product, and also indicate how solutions vendors are responding to the mashups needs of the business IT.

Convertigo

The Convertigo enterprise mash-up server (C-EMS) is designed for customer relationship management and e-commerce use by marketers, sales and customer service departments, but can also be used by companies creating a single interface that draws data from many legacy applications. It is based on the Eclipse 3.1 open-source integrated development environment (IDE); it parses HTML, XML and CSS pages using the same Gecko layout engine employed by Firefox. Supported Web services include REST, SOAP, Flow RSS 0, IBM and Bull legacy screens and unstructured Web pages like HTML, JSP and AJAX, as well as SQL databases.

Convertigo also focuses on a presentation layer mash-up that takes data streams and converts them for use on portable devices, like smartphones, netbooks and tablet PCs. It uses a technique called 'Web clipping' to capture the graphics then allows them to be resized and re-organised to fit smaller screens. Convertigo also allows organisations to deploy C-EMS as a cloud computing services, where they can freely evaluate the software and test their business mash-ups.

IBM Mash-up Center

Mash-up Center v2.0 was released at the end of 2009 and runs on WebSphere Application Server. It includes a browser based tool for widget creation, and a 'Spaces' feature that allows users to build and share their multi-page enterprise mash-ups with colleagues and business partners. The software pulls information from content managements systems like SharePoint, WebSphere MQ solutions, Filenet, IBM Content Manager RESTful services and WS-Security Web services. The Widget Generation plug-in gives non-programmers the ability to create simple widgets without writing code using predefined templates and standard feed types, plus colour, size, style and image customisation options.

The Widget Editor is for Web developers looking to create new widgets from scratch or from existing HTML, Javascript, XML or CSS files with ATOM, RSS and JSON feeds also supported. The software offers multiple security options - policies can be implemented to block suspected denial of services attacks and protect against unauthorised access, for example. Untrusted third party widgets can also be isolated ('sandboxed') into separate runtime environments and filtering tools are provided.

Usage reports and policy metrics provide Web adminstrators with visual interpretations of popular content and user activity and how data access requests are affected by policies within the enterprise mash-ups platform. The software also shows dependencies between data feeds and the mash-up to help users understand the consequences of changes.

IBM also provides a Mash-up Accelerator, which wraps Mash-up Center into a lightweight version for integration into the IBM WebSphere Portal. A 60-day trial can be downloaded (1.5Gb) from www.ibm.com/developerworks/downloads/ls/lsmashupcenter/index.html.

JackBe Presto 2.7

The first version of JackBe Presto appeared in 2007, though the company had previously specialised in AJAX development frameworks since its formation in 2002.

The latest iteration of Presto is split into three elements: Enterprise Mash-up Server, Mash-up Composers and Mash-up Connectors. Enterprise Mash-up Server provides a service virtualisation, security and collaboration platform, which transforms application data into a format which can be incorporated into mash-ups and controls access and security.

The Mash-up Composers are split into presentation layer mash-up Presto Wires, which is aimed at IT and business analysts, and Presto Mash-up Studio, a process layer version based on the Eclipse IDE meant for Java programmers looking to design, test, debug and deploy.

It also offers Mashlets, which add simple, user-customisable interfaces to mash-ups to be used in portals, blogs or shared applications. Mash-up Connectors handle Presto connections to other software, including portals and SOA enterprise service buses, as well as individual HP SOA Systinet enterprise architecture and Oracle database, Fusion SOA.

JackBe also offers an event plug-in that allows a user to import mash-up data into an Excel spreadsheet, manipulate it, then export it back into the mash-up for others to view. JackBe offers a free community developer edition of Presto which includes the server, composers, connectors and Connect APIs, as well as 50 mash-up-ready APIs from the ProgammableWeb registry.

Serena mash-ups

Serena is an application lifecycle management company of 30 years. It has its own mash-up tools to supplement a broader portfolio of software change and configuration management, application development, business process management and project and portfolio management software and services.

A good example of a process mash-up, Serena allows users to trigger an event in a business mash-up from other applications, using Web services to co-ordinate them. It supports XML, BPEL (based on the open-source JBPM engine), WS Security, data aware widgets and flash charting, and provides a visual designer to help non- programmers link systems into processes using simple point, click, drag and drop methods.

Serena's Mash-up Composer offers a palette of pre-configured widgets which can be added into the application - one example being a recruitment and interview process that uses a widget to automatically pull in data on candidates from social network LinkedIn. The system also provides a number of pre-built business mash-ups, including IT asset tracking and procurement, expense re-imbursement, travel request approval, HR employee processing, Sharepoint document approval, employee time off and hardware and software management.

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