Why developers are turning to API services

As application development increasingly hooks into outside services, tools to manage all those APIs are sprouting up

Enterprises and individual developers alike are heavily leveraging API-based access to data and services, especially for mobile and cloud apps. And they're getting an increasing palette of technologies to choose from for managing all those API processes. "A lot of our customers are exposing their services through APIs," says Apigee spokesman Bala Kasiviswanathan.

For example, the NCR consumer transaction company processes 300 million transactions a day and ran into a challenge where customers were looking to connect different services from different lines of businesses, said Eli Rosner, vice president of global software engineering. "Integration and orchestration became a very strategic need." Part of the answer was to bring API management capabilities into its MuleSoft enterprise service bus to orchestrate transaction-routing workflows in modern mobile and cloud applications, not just in its traditional back-office systems.

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Companies such as Apigee, CA's just-acquired Layer 7 Technologies, MuleSoft, Temboo, and WSO2 are tackling the API management need. Some secure API access, some provide an API exchange, and some provide cloud-based conduits to APIs:

  • Apigee's API exchange platform is geared to the telecom industry, but the company plans to expand it to include health care and financial services.
  • Layer 7's API management suite offers back-end data and application integration, mobile capabilities, cloud orchestration, and developer management.
  • MuleSoft's AnyPoint platform connects applications, APIs, and data sources across on-premise and cloud systems.
  • Temboo offers a library of common-access APIs, with links to systems such as Facebook.
  • WSO2's API Manager enables publishing of APIs, managing a developer community, and routing API traffic.

Forrester says it has fielded an increasing number of inquiries about whether and how companies should expose Web APIs directly to third-party development organizations to create and unlock the value of business data: "Sometimes, an API provider's data gains value only when combined with data from other sources; for example, mashing up maps with transit data, payment data with retail [point-of-sale] systems, or sports scores with Open Graph information."

In some ways, API management is a follow-up to service-oriented architecture (SOA), an approach to modular, orchestrated software delivery that was the "it" enterprise technology in the mid-2000s but later fell out of favor as too academic and abstract for businesses paying the software architecture bills. Nonetheless, SOA's principles remain as valid as ever and have continued to be used -- especially in cloud offerings -- even as few vendors and developers dare speak the term.

Today, "API management is what SOA should have been eight to 10 years ago," says Chris Haddad, vice president of technology evangelism at WSO2. API management overcomes the limitations of SOA in areas such as security and quality of service, Haddad says.

Rival API management vendor Layer 7 also views API management as the SOA successor, with SOA now geared to behind-the-firewall operations and API management to exposing data over the Internet to mobile applications and cloud services, says Layer 7 co-founder Dimitri Sirota. In a recent report, Forrester Research agrees that SOA strategies mostly target internal users while open Web APIs target mostly external partners. API management requires developer portals, key management, and metering and billing facilities that SOA management never provided, Forrester says.

Because of the proliferation of API-enabled data access from corporate applications via mobile devices, lighter-weight REST-based APIs are gaining prominence over more-complex SOAP APIs, says Forrester. API management vendors such as WSO2 and Layer 7 have thus added REST support in their tools.

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