|By Alistair Farquharson, CTO, SOA Software||
|March 31, 2014 08:45 AM EDT||
APIs are transforming businesses to extend the reach of their information systems and data. In technical terms, APIs are rather finite, allowing two software applications to exchange data and execute procedures. Yet their business impact is so great that API management requires a far from finite thought process. A "soup to nuts" approach is needed to help companies determine how to achieve the most business success with APIs.
An API enables applications to access back-end systems using lightweight, standards-based protocols such as REST and JSON. For example, if you were in food distribution, the actual business of soup and nuts, you could develop an API that lets mobile app developers tap directly into your ERP system. They could build consumer apps for recipes that showed ingredients that you had in stock. Grocery stores could build apps that gave their shoppers bulk discounts on large orders and so forth. The API extends your food distribution business into customer realms where you've never played before. This is fantastic. But it also presents a number of challenges to the management of the business.
An API Is a Product
Whether you like it or not, your API is basically a software product. It should be managed like one. As external parties connect with your API, they will reasonably expect the kind of professional communication and seamless updates that they would find with any web-based software business. If you are a mobile app developer who is accustomed to tapping into Amazon.com's API or any number of comparable interfaces, you will expect the same kind of experience when you connect with a corporate API.
Perhaps more significantly, the API represents an investment of resources. As such, it should serve a well-thought-out and thorough business strategy just like any software product. This means managing its lifecycle. The software lifecycle starts with planning, continues through development and operation, and ends with retirement and replacement. Ideally each phase of the lifecycle should be managed and monitored for optimal results. Certainly better API lifecycle management will foster more satisfied developers and partner communities.
Planning and Building Your APIs
Sometimes an API just is. Someone in the IT department created it for some reason that has since been forgotten, and there it is. It may or may not be great, but you have it. Should you use it "as is" or wait? This is more common than you might imagine. If you are approaching your APIs as if they were products, you would wait and work through a plan first. You have to get together with business and technology stakeholders and determine the business purpose of the APIs that you will be building. Now, this begs the question: Who exactly is this "you" we are referring to? That is one of your first planning challenges. Who is going to own the API business products that will extend the business into new spheres? So first you have to figure out who owns the API, and often it will be a collection of people that represent different parts of a business. Then the next planning task is to understand the cost/benefit outcomes for the business and intended users.
Chances are there will be more than one API developed and within each API there will be a host of different features to be developed. You will have to devise a priority for the rollout of new features. For instance, with the recipe app, the first release of the API might include simple searching and browsing. The second release might enable users to order products for delivery. The third release could let users pay for orders with credits cards and so forth. Not all of these features can be perfected at once.
Once the API is up, the organization has to be in place to support it. It is necessary to think through the empty seats that might need to be filled so that users of your API will feel as if they are connected to a responsive, living business. For example, if you are planning to invite developers from Europe to connect with your API, you need to have a technical point of contact for them as well as documentation that will be meaningful to them, perhaps translated into different languages. You will have to structure your business to support and manage the API.
Running the API: Protect, Secure, Manage
Your APIs are doorways into your business systems. That's great, but it is also a bit scary. APIs need strong, coherent security and management. If you have a handful of APIs, you will be able to stay on top of their availability, security and provisioning by hand. As your API program grows and it will if you are doing it right, you will likely find that using an API platform becomes a best practice - simply because it can take care of the serious work of API management. Effectively running an API through a platform involves the following:
- Support non-functional requirements - These include message protocol handling, security policy, authentication and authorization, etc.
- Manage provisioning and access control for apps - This means the selective provisioning of API access. Corporate APIs are not like their consumer counterparts where you want millions of users. With a corporate API, controlled access is where the users are the most valuable, not the most numerous. The API platform should enable selective provisioning that is still highly automated and light in terms of administrative load. Unfettered usage can bring a host of problems. Traffic and load management can get strained. Worse is the possible need to add extra server instances of costly business software just to satisfy API-driven demand. If the increased load is not generating revenue, satisfying it with more instances will be a waste of money.
- Monetization and control - An API might be a profit center itself. For example, a food distribution company API could be monetized from selling access to data about sales trends in the food industry. This scenario requires the ability to license access to the API.
- Provide API monitoring - APIs are just like any other piece of enterprise IT that is monitored for its system health, response times, and availability. In some cases, uptime may not be a big issue. However when your customers and partners are connecting to an API, you will want to know whether it is up, down, or running slowly. The API platform should provide monitoring functionality as well as failover for APIs that go down.
Sharing Your APIs: Publish, Support, Syndicate
APIs succeed when they are shared. The API platform can help create a marketplace where developers can discover your APIs and request permission to use them. The marketplace can be internal to your company or set up for external relationships. Whether it is a developer portal or something comparable, the platform should provide the below sharing functionality:
- Enable you to interact with and recognize your API developers. In some cases, this process can be set up on a self-service basis to allow it to scale without a major resource investment on your part.
- Facilitate the creation of great documentation about your API and how to use it.
- Make testing against your API as easy as possible.
- Monetize your API to assist in future cost benefit analysis.
Analyze Your API Program: Measure, Report, Iterate
Measurement of program results is in the DNA of most good IT managers. The API platform can help make this process as simple as possible. You will likely want to measure and report on the success of your program across the whole API lifecycle. Lifecycle and results are usually linked. For instance, if you see adoption of the recipe API rise as new features are added and new versions are introduced, that is an important finding to determine the payoff of earlier investments in the program and guide future direction. The right API measuring tools can help you drive improvement back into the planning stage. It is a never-ending cycle.
The Platform Approach to API Lifecycle Management
The execution of an API program that manages APIs like products across their full lifecycles requires a combination of organization and technology. The technology alone cannot make it happen. The organization cannot do it alone without the proper tools. In our experience working with many large enterprises, the best practice is to match the API owners with a platform approach to lifecycle management. The platform can be a complete offering, such as our own SOA Software API Management Solution, or it can be built in a variety of other ways. What's important is to recognize that the people, process and platform need to work together to effect comprehensive API lifecycle management. This will ensure the success of the API program.
Ideally lifecycle management will be baked into the structure of the platform tooling, allowing for automated approvals and workflow for each stage of the API lifecycle. This means having the ability to align work streams related to API lifecycle, such as costing, product management, documentation and legal. People involved in running the API program can thus work together efficiently. The API development capability itself should have API modeling, templates, versioning and change management, and impact analysis. These features serve the goal of managing the full API lifecycle without an untenable resource investment.
API management typically works using a proxy that can be managed and monitored more easily than the API itself. For multiple APIs, the best approach is a "gateway" or collective proxy with added integration and mediation capabilities including:
- Process Composition/Orchestration.
- Security, including AU/AZ, attack prevention, and protecting your systems from abuse.
- Caching and paging.
- Supporting multiple mobile app platforms.
- Managing quality of service (QoS).
Exposing APIs to your systems involves building a community. Developers whom you don't know will be writing code to access your data through APIs. For the process to work, they need to feel as if they are connecting with real people. This can be achieved in part with self-service and automation and actual human involvement. A developer portal is essential for the following functions:
- Self-service community to promote innovation and lower support costs.
- Interactive documentation to increase adoption and encourage experimentation with your APIs.
- App provisioning so you can gain visibility and control over the apps that are hitting your APIs.
- Integrated testing to speed up learning.
- Analytics to provide feedback and measure success.
You have your soup. You want the nuts. There is a path to dessert. However all this requires a mature and profitable API program. Our recommendation is to think about what you want to accomplish with APIs from the vantage points of productization and lifecycle. Building APIs puts you into the business of creating software products. While you may not see the API as a product, it is one. And, like any software product, it needs to be managed across its entire lifecycle. From planning through running and sharing, the API has to be monitored and secured. The work of managing it needs to be handled efficiently so that the program can be financially and strategically beneficial to the business. The best practice to ensure all of these outcomes is to use an API management platform to automate the handling of all of your APIs as they progress across their lifecycles. That will get you the nuts. The alternative is to go nuts, and that's not what anyone wants.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies adopt disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 18th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 7-9, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevO...
Feb. 12, 2016 12:30 PM EST Reads: 258
SYS-CON Events announced today that Avere Systems, a leading provider of enterprise storage for the hybrid cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Avere delivers a more modern architectural approach to storage that doesn’t require the overprovisioning of storage capacity to achieve performance, overspending on expensive storage media for inactive data or the overbuilding of data centers ...
Feb. 12, 2016 12:30 PM EST Reads: 103
SYS-CON Events announced today that Alert Logic, Inc., the leading provider of Security-as-a-Service solutions for the cloud, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Alert Logic, Inc., provides Security-as-a-Service for on-premises, cloud, and hybrid infrastructures, delivering deep security insight and continuous protection for customers at a lower cost than traditional security solutions. Ful...
Feb. 12, 2016 11:45 AM EST Reads: 446
Recognizing the need to identify and validate information security professionals’ competency in securing cloud services, the two leading membership organizations focused on cloud and information security, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) and (ISC)^2, joined together to develop an international cloud security credential that reflects the most current and comprehensive best practices for securing and optimizing cloud computing environments.
Feb. 12, 2016 11:45 AM EST
SYS-CON Events announced today that FalconStor Software® Inc., a 15-year innovator of software-defined storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. FalconStor Software®, Inc. (NASDAQ: FALC) is a leading software-defined storage company offering a converged, hardware-agnostic, software-defined storage and data services platform. Its flagship solution FreeStor®, utilizes a horizonta...
Feb. 12, 2016 11:45 AM EST
In most cases, it is convenient to have some human interaction with a web (micro-)service, no matter how small it is. A traditional approach would be to create an HTTP interface, where user requests will be dispatched and HTML/CSS pages must be served. This approach is indeed very traditional for a web site, but not really convenient for a web service, which is not intended to be good looking, 24x7 up and running and UX-optimized. Instead, talking to a web service in a chat-bot mode would be muc...
Feb. 12, 2016 11:30 AM EST Reads: 298
Fortunately, meaningful and tangible business cases for IoT are plentiful in a broad array of industries and vertical markets. These range from simple warranty cost reduction for capital intensive assets, to minimizing downtime for vital business tools, to creating feedback loops improving product design, to improving and enhancing enterprise customer experiences. All of these business cases, which will be briefly explored in this session, hinge on cost effectively extracting relevant data from ...
Feb. 12, 2016 11:15 AM EST Reads: 138
When building large, cloud-based applications that operate at a high scale, it’s important to maintain a high availability and resilience to failures. In order to do that, you must be tolerant of failures, even in light of failures in other areas of your application. “Fly two mistakes high” is an old adage in the radio control airplane hobby. It means, fly high enough so that if you make a mistake, you can continue flying with room to still make mistakes. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee...
Feb. 12, 2016 10:41 AM EST
SYS-CON Events announced today that iDevices®, the preeminent brand in the connected home industry, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. iDevices, the preeminent brand in the connected home industry, has a growing line of HomeKit-enabled products available at the largest retailers worldwide. Through the “Designed with iDevices” co-development program and its custom-built IoT Cloud Infrastruc...
Feb. 12, 2016 10:00 AM EST Reads: 124
There will be new vendors providing applications, middleware, and connected devices to support the thriving IoT ecosystem. This essentially means that electronic device manufacturers will also be in the software business. Many will be new to building embedded software or robust software. This creates an increased importance on software quality, particularly within the Industrial Internet of Things where business-critical applications are becoming dependent on products controlled by software. Qua...
Feb. 12, 2016 09:51 AM EST
As enterprises work to take advantage of Big Data technologies, they frequently become distracted by product-level decisions. In most new Big Data builds this approach is completely counter-productive: it presupposes tools that may not be a fit for development teams, forces IT to take on the burden of evaluating and maintaining unfamiliar technology, and represents a major up-front expense. In his session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Warfield, CTO and Co-Founder of Coho Data, will dis...
Feb. 12, 2016 09:30 AM EST Reads: 212
The Quantified Economy represents the total global addressable market (TAM) for IoT that, according to a recent IDC report, will grow to an unprecedented $1.3 trillion by 2019. With this the third wave of the Internet-global proliferation of connected devices, appliances and sensors is poised to take off in 2016. In his session at @ThingsExpo, David McLauchlan, CEO and co-founder of Buddy Platform, will discuss how the ability to access and analyze the massive volume of streaming data from mil...
Feb. 12, 2016 09:00 AM EST
The cloud competition for database hosts is fierce. How do you evaluate a cloud provider for your database platform? In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Chris Presley, a Solutions Architect at Pythian, will give users a checklist of considerations when choosing a provider. Chris Presley is a Solutions Architect at Pythian. He loves order – making him a premier Microsoft SQL Server expert. Not only has he programmed and administered SQL Server, but he has also shared his expertise and passion w...
Feb. 12, 2016 08:00 AM EST
SYS-CON Events announced today that Men & Mice, the leading global provider of DNS, DHCP and IP address management overlay solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 18th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The Men & Mice Suite overlay solution is already known for its powerful application in heterogeneous operating environments, enabling enterprises to scale without fuss. Building on a solid range of diverse platform support,...
Feb. 12, 2016 06:00 AM EST Reads: 251
Eighty percent of a data scientist’s time is spent gathering and cleaning up data, and 80% of all data is unstructured and almost never analyzed. Cognitive computing, in combination with Big Data, is changing the equation by creating data reservoirs and using natural language processing to enable analysis of unstructured data sources. This is impacting every aspect of the analytics profession from how data is mined (and by whom) to how it is delivered. This is not some futuristic vision: it's ha...
Feb. 12, 2016 05:45 AM EST Reads: 460
Silver Spring Networks, Inc. (NYSE: SSNI) extended its Internet of Things technology platform with performance enhancements to Gen5 – its fifth generation critical infrastructure networking platform. Already delivering nearly 23 million devices on five continents as one of the leading networking providers in the market, Silver Spring announced it is doubling the maximum speed of its Gen5 network to up to 2.4 Mbps, increasing computational performance by 10x, supporting simultaneous mesh communic...
Feb. 12, 2016 05:00 AM EST
Predictive analytics tools monitor, report, and troubleshoot in order to make proactive decisions about the health, performance, and utilization of storage. Most enterprises combine cloud and on-premise storage, resulting in blended environments of physical, virtual, cloud, and other platforms, which justifies more sophisticated storage analytics. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Peter McCallum, Vice President of Datacenter Solutions at FalconStor, will discuss using predictive analytics to ...
Feb. 12, 2016 04:45 AM EST Reads: 409
Let’s face it, embracing new storage technologies, capabilities and upgrading to new hardware often adds complexity and increases costs. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Seth Oxenhorn, Vice President of Business Development & Alliances at FalconStor, will discuss how a truly heterogeneous software-defined storage approach can add value to legacy platforms and heterogeneous environments. The result reduces complexity, significantly lowers cost, and provides IT organizations with improved effi...
Feb. 12, 2016 03:45 AM EST Reads: 269
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, will provide an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data profes...
Feb. 12, 2016 02:30 AM EST Reads: 230
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts...
Feb. 12, 2016 12:45 AM EST Reads: 408