The API is everything for cloud computing

While many cloud providers consider APIs as an afterthought, they should be front and center

I spoke at Glue Con last week, a developer-oriented conference held in Denver this year. What's the core message from the conference around cloud computing? You can answer that question with three letters: A-P-I.

APIs are nothing new to cloud computing; indeed, most of cloud services are accessed using an API -- whether you're allocating compute or storage resources, placing a message on a queue, or remotely shutting down a virtual instance. However, the gap between what we have today and where we need to be is vaster than most cloud computing users understand.

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For example, at the conference we heard Ryan Sarver, director of platform at Twitter, state that early on their APIs were "very simplistic." But now developers are looking to use Twitter in new and more exciting ways, so Twitter is enhancing its APIs -- for example, promoting the use of its API by creating a new developer portal, as well as providing more code samples, more documentation, and more tools. Oh yeah, they're also creating more APIs. Twitter is adding arbitrary metadata or structured data to tweets. (There are 140,000 applications that use the Twitter API, Sarver said.)

Beyond social networking services, you can count on the majority of the future features of cloud computing to be based on APIs, and thus developer-oriented, not user-oriented. While SaaS systems, such as, were all about the visual interface initially (and that is still important for SaaS), more and more cloud computing users will consume both data and behavior using the APIs, so they can mix and match cloud services within traditional enterprise or composite applications. This blurs the line between what lives in the clouds and what does not.

However, we're not there yet, generally speaking, with cloud APIs. There are still two key issues that providers need to address:

First, APIs for most cloud providers are often an afterthought. Looping back and exposing their core services as APIs often requires rethinking how the core system is architected. That's why, in many instances, the providers go for quick and lower-value API solutions -- a mistake. Engineer APIs into your systems from the get-go.

Second, APIs are often not documented or supported as well as they should be. Developers will use the easiest API; therefore, providers' APIs had better be that path of easiest use, or they'll end up watching developers go elsewhere.

This article, "The API is everything for cloud computing," originally appeared at Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and follow the latest developments in cloud computing at


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