The launch of IBM Mashup Center was one of the key announcements at Impact 2008. We got a chance to talk to Friend of RedMonk Larry Bowden about it. Larry was a key player in building the IBM portals business, which is still growing at a nice clip. He tends to look beyond IBM’s traditional software brands, preferring more pragmatic go to market approaches.
Hello Mashup Center
The first surprise about Mashup Center is the name- note its not a Lotus, WebSphere or DB2/Information Management product. It is primarily comprised of two components: software for enabling back end data as services, based on an existing IBM IM development called Infosphere MashupHub, and Lotus Mashups, a glue layer for integrating services at the glass. The development team, which included of many of the people responsible for Lotus Sametime and Quickr, were working in this context with no IBM Software Group brand affiliation. The core design principle was to create something easy to use with consumer software style usability which would just get the job done. According to Larry Mashup Center is suitable for
“Good enough, lightweight apps, but don’t build a transactional app with it. This is for self- managed applications. If you think you need IT to manage it, you may need something else [such as a full blown Portal implementation].”
That’s a useful negative definition – What We Don’t Do. IBM clients are often frustrated and or confused by the breadth and complexity of the portfolio (one reason industry analysts like IBM so much), so its quite helpful to know where a particular product is not suitable, particularly when there are products with some overlapping functionality.
Mashup Center is designed for situational, read-only style departmental line of business applications. It is designed for pulling in spreadsheets, and adding star ratings, say, with a rich client for drag and drop object manipulation [note to self and web - check if this client is OSGi-based, i am pretty sure the answer will be yes] . The beta is 15th April. The product is likely to be in the $40k per CPU range.
Cote, in his own inimitable fashion, told Larry:
“Yeah that’d be great if you knocked off three zeros, made it weekly and hosted it for the customer“.
Hello Hosted Apps
And guess what. No- I can’t make any revelations about the number of zeros, but I am pleased to say there is a new SaaS unit within Lotus. It really is about bloody time. I can’t tell you how many times RedMonk has lobbied/hammered IBM publicly and privately for its lack of a coherent SaaS strategy. With Mashup Center and other hosted Lotus products, and Rational Jazz, a slick, hosted, transparent collaborative development application built from the ground up with the web, and cross-firewall in mind, things are finally moving in the right direction. For The Win. And not a century too soon!
IBM apparently brought in Rick McGee, who ran SaaS infrastructure in IBM Global Services to get the infrastructure right for metering and billing and so on. Cloud billing true believer John Willis will surely be pleased to see IBM putting billing front and center in the design. I have some concerns here – its not clear to me that IGS has much of a clue when it comes to high volume web application hosting. These are the guys that couldn’t work out a model that would allow them to effectively resell salesforce.com.
Online computing approaches for MashUp Center could allow IBM to play with new revenue models, perhaps charging for use of a hosted catalog of prebuilt widgets and connectors, for example. I don’t think Marc Benioff will be losing any sleep quite yet, but if IBM gets serious about development, integration and service delivery across the public internet it could potentially establish some leverage against emerging platforms such as salesforce.com AppExchange and even Google App Engine, as written up in Clouds Rolling In: The Google App Engine Q&A. Enterprise Workloads are going to find their way onto the internet whether IBM likes it not. Big Blue can dismiss the cloud until its an online cloud of middleware services – and at that point it would be neglecting shareholders to not apply serious resources to working it out. If the market is middleware, whatever its being called by the hipsters at the time, then IBM has to play.
IBM also needs to be able to host Lotus apps for customers in order to compete against Google Docs. Its working on that. Microsoft is already well on the road to what it calls Software + Services. This is the new industry model. Just as open source is now a given rather than a choice, so is SaaSiness.
More from Larry in a podcast here.
disclosure: IBM is a client. RedMonk runs Google Docs. Google and Salesforce are not clients. We don’t currently use Salesforce apps but with the news today of tighter integration of Google Docs that could easily change.