In the new, digital economy, future business applications will consist, not of monolithic sequences of business logic, but of multiple services activated through API connections. One application may connect to Salesforce, another to Google Maps or Google Translate.
APIs are carefully programmed interfaces or gateways that allow one application to talk to another, based on a set of conventions and standards. Public facing APIs can interact with consumers and many types of queries; APIs may also be engineered in a standard way to work only with authorized users.
But there's no guarantee that one API-based service will work with another, due to normal incompatibilities between APIs. One mobile app may want data in one form, another in a different format. Handing off between outside services embedded in the same application can have similar problems. Developers strive to eliminate these difficulties as they put together their apps, but devices change, interfaces change, and APIs themselves are often modified without advance notice.
"Serverless" computing adds further demand. Serverless is where a standard API connects an application to the Lambda Service on Amazon Web Services and a software event trigger results in a function being run.
Some developers are turning to online API integration platforms, such as the Anypoint Platform hosted by the open source integration firm, MuleSoft. Cloud Elements also produces its API Integration Platform, which provides a hub-based set of uniform APIs for connecting to various cloud services, such as a CRM API to connect to an Oracle, Salesforce or SugarCRM service.
Want to see why API management is important to the future of IT? See Why APIs Are Worth The Time And Attention of IT Professionals.
To get a picture of the current API economy, Cloud Elements has produced a report, The State of API Integration 2017, based on API use data collected from the technology tracking firm, Datanyze, and the ProgrammableWeb, an online source of API news and information. The ProgrammableWeb is owned by Mulesoft, which became a public company on the New York Stock Exchange on March 17.
The data was analyzed by Kin Lane, an independent API evangelist, contributor to the ProgrammableWeb, former API evangelist for CityGrid, and author of apievangelist.com, apivoice.com, and kinlane.com. The co-author was Ross Garrett, senior director of product marketing at Cloud Elements. The latter part of the report is specifically aimed at developers and names the integrations and features they need to design for, and isn't covered in this article. The focus here is on the first part, which draws a picture of the state of API use.
First a fact noted by the introduction of the report: Use of public APIs grew by 326% between 2010 and 2013, according to ProgrammableWeb. That means enterprise applications, mobile applications used by consumers and business partners, among others, were linked to outside users or services through a public-facing application programming interface. That rate of growth is believed to have accelerated since then. Frequently these public-facing APIs are interacting with applications running in the cloud, with each cloud accessed through its service APIs.
For nine years after Amazon Web Services launched, the most used cloud service was storage. But by mid-2015, customer relationship management as provided by Salesforce, SugarCRM and other companies matched storage as a frequently used service, "creating the need for APIs across several cloud services," the Cloud Elements report pointed out.
Marketing, finance, ecommerce and help desk became the subsequent, highly popular services. Finance and help desk applications grew at a strong rate in the second half of 2016, leading again to a need for cross-service APIs, including connection to database system, messaging and social network APIs.
Cloud Elements cites a predecessor State of APIs report, a 2016 publication by Smartbear, which concluded that 39% of enterprises want their development applications to work together, and 41% want their security applications to work together. Getting them to interface to each other must be done either manually or through an API integration platform.
Event-driven or serverless computing will further strain APIs' ability to stay current and well-tuned. Developers are showing an appetite to use "Webhooks" to build event-driven sequences into their applications. A Webhook is an HTTP callback to a designated recipient, resulting in the posting of an HTTP notice. In serverless computing, the event triggers a function that, up until the event, has been inactive but now is instantiated and executed. Webhooks are "gaining a place within popular API documentation languages, such as Open API Specification V3.0," the report said. The use of Webhooks adds more complexity to API operations.
"Just publishing or writing to an API is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of (API) integration," the report said.
Developers or those supplying API integration platforms must deal with the complexity in four areas: authentication and authorization, metadata discovery, bulk data support, and event synchronization. Unless they gain an ability to deal with the four problem areas, developers and enterprise application managers won't be able to take advantage of "the efficiency and opportunity offered by a seamless, fully connected application ecosystem."
Another source of complexity stems from the fact that, while REST or Representational State Transfer is nearly everyone's choice of a standard for composing APIs, about 15% of all APIs are still composed in SOAP or Simple Object Access Protocol, according to the data collected for the report.
A full version of the report in 36 slides is available here.
There are existing ways to address API complexity, including turning to an online integration platform, such as that hosted by the open source firm, MuleSoft, which produces an application integration hub on AWS. MuleSoft staged its IPO offering 13 million shares on March 17 at $17 a share, higher than expected. The shares rose to $24.75 in the first day of trading, a gain of 45%, and were at $23.67 Thursday afternoon.
Cloud Elements' API Integration Platform provides a set of uniform APIs for connecting to a type of cloud service, such as a CRM API to connect to an Oracle, Salesforce, SugarCRM, or other service.Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio