Introduction to API Management and How to Get Started
by Ron EvanPublished on August 9, 2021
Applications Programming Interfaces (APIs) manage and define the communication and exchange of data between different platforms and applications. API management is composed of the software running applications in servers and the code that ensures that the software is properly implemented.
APIs have existed for quite a long time. However, they have gained more popularity in recent times. This has been contributed by the growth of big data and technological advancements. Today companies are relying on technology to offer services to their customers.
They are coming up with innovative solutions tailored to address the specific needs of their customers. They are also using APIs to help them manage the customer needs since they keep on changing from time to time.
In addition to customer demands, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to change how they operate. According to research by the World Bank, most companies had their sales dropping by up to 27 percent between October 2020 and January 2021. It was even worse between April and September 2020, when revenue dropped by 45 percent.
Companies have been forced to have their employees work from home, and deliver quality services to their customers despite the pandemic. Technology, and especially APIs, have made this possible.
The continued growth of the use of APIs has brought about a new need – managing the APIs. Businesses need a way to keep a close eye on their APIs from the time they are incepted to the time they are retired. This helps in making sure that the APIs do what they are supposed to do without any issues.
What is API Management?
Initially building and implementing APIs meant that companies had to manually code everything from scratch. However, this has so far changed. They use software applications to guide them through the entire process. This process is known as API management.
It can be defined as the process through which developers build and publish APIs while following stipulated policies, and empowering the API consumers. It also involves controlling how the APIs are accessed, keeping tabs on performance, and collecting statistics on how they are used.
The management system analyzes these usage statistics to guide companies into future changes in implementation. The management platforms are very important to companies due to the value the APIs bring to them (companies). APIs make it easy for companies to innovate and share data with their partners.
They allow companies to open their systems to external developers who can then create solutions using their data. For instance, when building a taxi-hailing application, developers are able to implement Google Maps using an API. If they did not have APIs, they would be forced to build everything on their own from scratch.
Components of API Management Platforms
API tools for management come in a layered architecture with several components. Each of these components is responsible for different things, all of which aid in making sure that the API meets its requirements. The components include;
Reporting and Analytics Tools
API Lifecycle Manager
The API gateway sits between the applications implementing an API and the server at the backend. When a request is sent, it first passes through the API gateway which then redirects it (the request) to the right resources in the server.
On the other hand, a response to the request is then issued and, again, goes through the API gateway which routes it to the original application that made the request. This means that the API gateway is responsible for routing requests and responses to the right resources and applications.
The gateway offers coupling between the resources of a company and the client applications. These two do not interact directly due to the work done by the gateway. In addition, the API gateway is used to minimize downtime and maximize the efficiency of the API. While doing that, companies can use it to collect and analyze auditing data.
Finally, the API gateway is tasked with making data between different applications that were not developed to work together compatible. It does this by taking care of schema validation to make sure that data is in the formats that applications can understand.
Developer tools in the management platforms are used for several functions. They define APIs, generate their documentation, test APIs, and debug any issues with the APIs. These tools are also tasked with governing the usage of APIs and deploying the APIs into different environments such as staging, production, and quality assurance.
The developer tools are composed of visually appealing and easy-to-use environments. The environments make it easy for developers to create code and work together on the same project.
This means that with the developer tools, API developers are able to come up with robust and efficient code. They (the developers) are also able to work together and deliver projects more quickly compared to those that work without the developer tools.
Reporting and Analytics Tools
Building and implementing APIs means that companies need to be able to understand different metrics on the usage of the APIs. The management platforms come with reporting and analytics tools that monitor and analyze how the APIs are being used.
They generate load and usage statistics and report on the amounts of data transferred. The tools also provide analytics on the amount of time taken when transferring the data, any obstacles faced, and the total number of objects returned.
The collected data makes it possible for companies to get reports that they can use to predict future changes in API usage. It also helps them optimize the performance of their APIs and make them scalable.
Finally, the reporting and analytics tools alert the companies and API developers in case there are any issues affecting the API performance. This ensures that any arising issues are addressed before they can affect the systems implementing the APIs.
The API portal is sometimes called the community manager. It is responsible for making it easy for developers and API owners when it comes to the deployment of APIs. It also makes the entire onboarding process easy and takes care of the API’s access control.
The API portal uses contracts and plans to control how different consumers gain access to the API. Different consumers require different load capabilities, something that is controlled by the API portal.
When testing and documenting the performance and functionality of an API, both external and internal developers use the API portal to assess the availability of an API and to make sure that it meets its requirements.
The policy manager component is tasked with managing all the policies that define how the API operates throughout its lifecycle. These policies are very essential in managing and defining APIs built and implemented by companies.
The policies usually follow all the steps followed by the API until it is retired. They are used to control all the traffic to and from the API, optimize the API’s performance, enhance its security, and ensure that companies get value from their APIs.
When implementing these policies, companies do not need to modify any services in the backend or write any code. The management platform does all the work for them and makes sure that all APIs follow the set guidelines.
API Lifecycle Manager
The final but important component that comprises the management of APIs is the API lifecycle manager. During the development, implementation, and retirement of an API, organizations are required to manage different states that the API goes through.
This component is responsible for making sure that APIs go through all the stages in their lifecycle without facing any difficulties. These stages include designing, developing, testing, deploying, deprecating, and retiring the API.
Why Should Companies Invest in the Management of APIs?
As discussed above, APIs have become very important not only in streamlining business processes but also in changing our day-to-day lives. This makes the process of managing APIs very important. Companies employing the management of their APIs stand to reap a number of benefits, among them;
Improving the Scalability of APIs
There has been an exponential growth in the amount of data and the number of applications used by companies today. While at it, companies need a way through which they can scale their operations without affecting any existing systems. This is where API management comes in.
The continued adoption of APIs has ensured that companies have many software applications to centralize, connect, and organize. They need an effective management platform for this and to make sure that the APIs they implement meet their expectations.
The management platforms, therefore, make sure that APIs are properly managed, and are scalable enough to address any future changes. These might be changes in things like customer demand, load time, and speed among others.
Ensuring a Good Customer Experience
Companies have been able to come up with innovative solutions and improve the experiences of their customers through the use of APIs. This plays a very crucial role in addressing the changing demands of their customers.
They do this by creating connections between different applications and allowing them to communicate and share data. This helps them come up with convenient and responsive experiences for their customers.
However, this would be very difficult to achieve without a proper platform to manage APIs. They (APIs) are the building blocks that power all these connections. They, therefore, need to be managed to ensure that they are able to meet their obligations.
APIs connect different applications within and without a company. Through them, companies are able to create connections between departments, third-party developers, and partner organizations. This makes them very vulnerable to attacks from unauthorized access. In addition, 77% of companies have reported that they have one or more of their systems running in the cloud and powered by APIs. This increases the security risks they get exposed to.
However, the management platforms employed by companies come equipped with different security measures to keep APIs safe. These measures ensure that companies assign the right permissions to those that need to access the APIs. They also protect all the data going through the API from being exposed.
The management platforms do this by offering consistency and visibility into all the security loopholes that might exist. These loopholes are then addressed before they can be exploited.
How to Get Started
Now that you have decided to build and implement APIs, you need to get started with API management. It is important to note that this is a process that takes place from the time of inception to the time of retiring the APIs.
To get started, developers need to choose an API management platform that meets their needs as well as those of their API consumers. There are many platforms available today, and therefore companies should be careful when choosing the one to use.
What to Look For When Choosing a Platform to Manage APIs
Before you get started with building and implement APIs, it is important to think about the platforms you will be using when managing your APIs. There are a number of characteristics that the right platform should have. They include;
Flexibility: The right platform employed for managing APIs should be able to offer developers many options through which they can manage their APIs. This helps developers and companies to choose the option that best meets their requirements and makes things easy for them.
Speed: Management platforms should come with the right throughput and access latency. Companies should make sure that the platform they choose comes with things such as caching and throttling. This is because these things have a direct impact on the speed of the management platform. For instance, cyberpreneurs leverage the speed and power of their applications and the internet to do business. This means a slow management platform would not work for them.
Dependability: Dependability refers to how a management platform is available for use. When choosing one, companies need to make sure that they understand how prone it is to downtimes. When an API management tool experiences downtimes, chances are that it is going to affect the performance and availability of all the APIs depending on it.
Cost: Different companies have different financial capabilities. When choosing a management platform, companies need to make sure that they are getting value for their money. They also need to choose a platform that meets their financial muscles.
Quality: Finally, even though some companies might have financial constraints, they do not need to choose a management platform just because it is cheap. The right management platform should offer consistency when managing APIs. It should also make sure that APIs meet all the expectations of their developers.
SMEs are leveraging technology to boost their businesses online. This boost in technology adoption has been powered by the capability of APIs. However, when doing this, businesses need to understand that the management of APIs is very important when it comes to the success of the APIs. As discussed earlier, APIs have played a crucial role in defining how companies operate. They have also influenced how they address the demands of their customers. This would be very challenging without proper management of APIs.