Gartner recently named Cloud Elements a ‘Visionary’ on the Magic Quadrant for Full Life Cycle API Management 2018. Maintaining a visionary approach for API Management in an increasingly innovative and competitive landscape is a constant challenge. However, we have a taken unique approach, and are reimagining the world of API Management and API-based integration.
LET'S START WITH WHAT API MANAGEMENT IS
API management isn’t just a method for controlling APIs; it is all about Transforming the Digital Enterprise. It’s the gateway drug for your data to be consumed by multiple departments, lines of business, customers and partners. API management was initially developed as a way to expose and monetize internal services - and drive additional revenue. The vision for API management was to take the internal, poorly tracked service assets of the typical IT infrastructure and publish them as APIs.
WHAT MAKES AN API SO SPECIAL?
Why convert everything to APIs? There were already solutions for connecting separate IT systems. Namely SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and ESBs (Enterprise Service Bus), and they were technologies of another time. SOA as an architectural design concept is fairly straightforward. From an IT management perspective though, it was a nightmare. That’s where the ESB comes in.
An ESB is an application server that attempts to be the swiss army knife of functionality by implementing EIPs (Enterprise Integration Patterns). Essentially, it is a massive, unwieldy chokepoint running on a verbose XML-based format called SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), through which all the data from SOA systems flow. So when logistics needs that data from sales, a poor corporate developer has to learn the ESB’s particular way of creating an integration and make a point-to-point connection between the data in the sales software and the data in the logistics software.
This can be fine and dandy if you don’t have to change applications very often. But the explosion of applications that organizations use to remain competitive in the market is only increasing in velocity and complexity. You simply could not have planned for machine learning integrations even 5 years ago.
Sadly, the issues don’t end there. One of the key issues with ESBs is their tendency to slow down growth. The central, monolithic app server doesn't scale easily (it's an application server, after all) as each new application needs a direct connection to every existing application. Issues due to poor scalability occur at many levels: development teams are slowed down, release teams are slowed down, and product development is slowed down because they have to deploy to a single, monolithic app server.
API Management is Better than ESB
ESBs were great like flip phones. But how is API management any better? You still have separate systems. But they are built to make access and integration simpler, and API management allows corporate IT staff to unify the use and supervision of all its services. Most API management platforms deliver this functionality by combining a few key features:
- API Gateway - a policy enforcement point, a central point to implement horizontally applicable logging, rate limiting, security, and access policies.
- API Portal - a consumer-focused user interface that provides for client self-service - browse documentation, try out APIs, accessing a catalog of services in a rational, friendly manner.
- API Analytics - from usage of the API Gateway, API Product managers can get insight into who's using their APIs, segment the user classes, and predict usage and tie this into business metrics (ROI, value, etc.) that can further justify APIs as a driver of business.
API Management v.s. API Integration
Web based APIs were developed as a way to integrate new applications and data sources. Where as API Management emerged as a control point to efficiently govern these new APIs. While API Management tried to replace ESBs, this is an anti-pattern that should be avoided.
With this, the names are similar however API integration is a very different concept. Referring to data integration with external services, whereas traditional integration leveraging ESBs refers to data integration among internal services. API management simply takes those internal services and transforms them into APIs which are made accessible through the API gateway. You manage a household but integrate into a community.
For SOA-based organizations, API management was transformative - each individual service was now accessible via its own API, and it was easy to make these services work together, since they were all accessed through the API management layer. Even modern companies like Amazon heavily promote this structure, build innovation but connect back to the mothership.
The Gartner Magic Quadrant has a date next to it to remind us that it’s 2018. Organizations should no longer focus on their internal integration needs, but rather how to integrate the entire ecosystem of applications that surrounds them. Because of this, existing IT organizations not only need to transform internal services into APIs, but they also need to build API integrations which will allow their customers to synchronize data with other third-party services that they use.
API Integration, the Future of API Management
Traditional API management providers are listening to their customers, realizing that external APIs are valuable to their end customers. So they are investing in extending the benefits of their platform by integrating internal and external APIs at the API management layer. They are trying to figure out what API-focused integration will look like. It looks like Cloud Elements.
Cloud Elements is an API integration platform, and our architecture is designed to efficiently bring together APIs in a templatized, multi-tenanted, one-to-many manner. The beauty is as you require more integrations, you have more pre-built virtual data resources at your disposal. Effectively transforming your data structures into APIs themselves in a one-to-many approach. When creating new integrations, you are only a few clicks away. Simply map the existing resource in Cloud Elements to the new Element; it’s economies of scale for integration like never before.
The major shortcoming of API management as we know it, is API management treats APIs differently depending on whether they are internal or external. It’s the API clubhouse for your internal APIs with a strict membership policy to newcomers. But in practice, no software ecosystem exists by itself. APIs are APIs, internal or external.
API management drives simplicity for developers managing internal IT services, while API integration drives simplicity for the customers of those services. Greater simplicity for customers is what drives growth. Cloud Elements allows you to normalize your internal APIs in one place, giving you the advantages of traditional API Management, and then also allows you to extend that normalization into external services, giving your customers the freedom to use your services in conjunction with the other 3rd party apps that they use.
UNTRADITIONAL API MANAGEMENT FEATURES
Cloud Elements is built as an integration platform which provides templatized connections between APIs without limitations. A majority of API oriented organizations already have API gateway functionality that handles traffic, load balancing and governance. Our integration platform works seamlessly with that API gateway layer. From an architectural viewpoint Cloud Elements can be placed behind your existing API gateway, allowing for the governance to remain stable, while unleashing your data's potential through integrated APIs.
Our ability to create pre-determined workflows involving multiple API calls, also enables complex business logic at the API layer so you don’t have to build it at the application layer. Cloud Elements offers this functionality with our Formula as a Resource (FaaR) engine. FaaR allows users to string together API calls, external or internal, in a synchronous manner while manipulating the data that is sent and received. Furthermore, each formula that is built in Cloud Elements is then published as its own API endpoint which can be called at any time. The result is a highly scalable orchestration engine unlike anything available in a classic API management framework.
Staying ahead of the curve
API management is a viable way of simplifying SOAs, and while it has been a blessing for many existing IT managers who previously used ESBs, it is already becoming an outdated way of thinking. In order for these services to remain useful to both their new and existing customers, they must adopt an API-first approach to data integration, which means giving the same priority to internal and external service integrations. Cloud Elements makes it easy by embracing all APIs equally and by standardizing resources across all of a service’s integrated APIs.