|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 BMC will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust IT industrialization – allowing customers to provide amazing user experiences with optimized IT per...
May. 27, 2015 05:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,120
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
May. 27, 2015 04:00 PM EDT Reads: 6,783
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
May. 27, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,152
The world is at a tipping point where the technology, the device and global adoption are converging to such a point that we will see an explosion of a world where smartphone devices not only allow us to talk to each other, but allow for communication between everything – serving as a central hub from which we control our world – MediaTek is at the heart of both driving this and allowing the markets to drive this reality forward themselves. The next wave of consumer gadgets is here – smart, connected, and small. If your ambitions are big, so are ours. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jack Hu, D...
May. 27, 2015 12:49 PM EDT Reads: 743
SYS-CON Events announced today that DragonGlass, an enterprise search platform, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. After eleven years of designing and building custom applications, OpenCrowd has launched DragonGlass, a cloud-based platform that enables the development of search-based applications. These are a new breed of applications that utilize a search index as their backbone for data retrieval. They can easily adapt to new data sets and provide access to both structured and unstruc...
May. 27, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,365
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
May. 27, 2015 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,418
We’re entering a new era of computing technology that many are calling the Internet of Things (IoT). Machine to machine, machine to infrastructure, machine to environment, the Internet of Everything, the Internet of Intelligent Things, intelligent systems – call it what you want, but it’s happening, and its potential is huge. IoT is comprised of smart machines interacting and communicating with other machines, objects, environments and infrastructures. As a result, huge volumes of data are being generated, and that data is being processed into useful actions that can “command and control” thi...
May. 27, 2015 11:51 AM EDT Reads: 739
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
May. 27, 2015 11:30 AM EDT Reads: 4,384
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be
May. 27, 2015 11:15 AM EDT Reads: 2,842
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
May. 27, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,398
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
May. 27, 2015 10:30 AM EDT Reads: 5,517
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists will peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fil...
May. 27, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,288
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
May. 27, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 4,686
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
May. 27, 2015 09:30 AM EDT Reads: 7,177
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
May. 27, 2015 07:30 AM EDT Reads: 5,760
Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
May. 27, 2015 04:30 AM EDT Reads: 4,377
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
May. 27, 2015 03:00 AM EDT Reads: 6,041
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
May. 27, 2015 02:30 AM EDT Reads: 5,710
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
May. 27, 2015 02:00 AM EDT Reads: 6,461
Collecting data in the field and configuring multitudes of unique devices is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that can stretch IT resources. Horan & Bird [H&B], Australia’s fifth-largest Solar Panel Installer, wanted to automate sensor data collection and monitoring from its solar panels and integrate the data with its business and marketing systems. After data was collected and structured, two major areas needed to be addressed: improving developer workflows and extending access to a business application to multiple users (multi-tenancy). Docker, a container technology, was used to ...
May. 27, 2015 01:00 AM EDT Reads: 2,672