API Automation: Do More with Less with this Key to Digital Transformation
Organizations today are looking to do more with less. The solution for many? Digital transformation. While digital transformation isn’t a new concept, the benefits of boosting efficiency, controlling costs, and delivering better customer experiences are obvious in today’s topsy-turvy economic conditions.
Digital transformation often involves making the transition from legacy monoliths to modern cloud native microservices-based architectures. More agility, scalability, and velocity are all a win. But new opportunities come with new challenges, and in this case, that challenge can be managing complexity. How can you connect all the things and maintain visibility?
Enter API automation. In this post, we'll explore why APIs and API automation are so critical for digital transformation success.
What is API automation?
APIs are the mission critical connective tissue that ties systems together. And automating the API lifecycle is key to maximizing ROI on cloud native investments.
API automation involves the process of automating the testing, deployment, and management of APIs. (Yes, the word kind of defines itself, but stick with us here.) By using automated tools and scripts, developers are able to minimize or eliminate most manual interventions, reduce human errors, and speed up the development cycle. This not only ensures consistency but also enables seamless integration and continuous delivery.
Top challenges with modernizing applications
Breaking down monoliths into cloud native architectures with microservices and APIs comes with some universal challenges. It's not as simple as lifting and shifting apps to the cloud. Companies need to rethink how they design, build, run, and manage software.
Here are a few common challenges encountered when modernizing:
Increased API volume - As monoliths split into microservices, there's an explosion in the number of APIs required to connect them. Companies can go from a handful of APIs to 100s or 1000s. And all these APIs need to be managed across environments.
Scaling API skills - Not all developers may be proficient in API best practices. Standards need to be implemented to ensure reliability and security across an expanding API footprint.
Cost control - With rising infrastructure costs, companies want to optimize spend. Unused capacity and waste have a bigger impact on the bottom line.
Compliance - Regulatory and compliance requirements must be upheld, even with faster release cadences. Controls are needed to reduce operational risks.
Mastering these aspects of API-driven development is critical for realizing the benefits of modernization. Ad hoc management leads to technical debt and real business risks from outages. API automation helps solve for many of these challenges.
API automation solutions for efficiency
API automation brings consistency, control, and visibility to managing APIs across their entire lifecycle. Automation acts as a multiplier, letting teams scale expertise and move faster.
Here are a few key ways API automation drives efficiency:
Enforce standards - Define policies for API security, design, etc. and auto-apply during CI/CD.
Accelerate testing - Automate functional testing and simulation for faster feedback.
Streamline workflows - Embed best practices for governance into development pipelines.
Centralize control - Manage APIs and enforce policies from a unified gateway.
Reduce human errors - Automate manual tasks to minimize mistakes and rework.
Maximize existing resources - Auto-scale APIs to optimize infrastructure utilization.
Observability - Gain end-to-end visibility across services and APIs.
Analytics - Uncover usage patterns and performance hotspots.
Automation shifts developers away from mundane API tasks. Instead of worrying about uptime, security, scale, and performance, they can focus on delivering differentiated business value. Technology leaders use API automation to scale expertise across their teams.
API automation for testing
One of the big benefits of API automation is automated testing. Old-school manual testing can be time-consuming, prone to error, and challenging to replicate consistently.
With API automation, developers are empowered to create scripts that automatically send requests to APIs, verify responses, and compare them against expected outcomes. This ensures APIs function as intended across various scenarios — including different input values, edge cases, and load conditions.
API automation drives long-term business value
True digital transformation requires reimagining processes, not just lifting and shifting operations to the cloud. The companies that will lead their industries in the future are taking holistic views. They focus on automation and connectivity to unlock innovation.
API automation, cloud native architecture, and governance provide the capabilities necessary to continuously improve. With the right vision and platform, optimizing for efficiency and customer experience don't have to be opposing goals. Investments in automation and APIs deliver value across the business.
Automation in software development
GitOps is a common term used around automation in the development pipeline. Since most of developers' code is stored in code repositories like Git, why can't other time-consuming and error-prone things like infrastructure and configurations be sorted in source control as well to take some of the tedium out of management?
The source of truth is in the code itself. The pipeline handles automation and heavy lifting — getting the code deployed across environments and clouds.
There are two benefits here: the improved quality of the output and the process itself, which increases developer productivity. By letting developers focus more on adding business value, the business (obviously) benefits, and developers feel more satisfied in their work due to having a more clear, positive impact on the business.
APIOps and API automation
APIOps extends GitOps to be API focused. APIs have been around for years, but the move to an API-first approach — and treating APIs as first-class citizens — is a more recent development.
This is often because companies want to expose data and functionality they've built to monetize it — this is known as API monetization.
This all comes at a time when things like open banking regulations and directives are pushing for data ownership to fall more into the hands of the end users rather than the companies themselves. And these types of regulations are going beyond the FinTech industry. We're also seeing a rise in open travel initiatives starting to pop up.
To do these things, developers need a way to easily expose their APIs. Here’s where APIOps comes into play.
With APIOps, you can define an open API spec, you can have it linted, have it tested, and have policy applied all through the CI/CD pipeline — taking the heavy lifting out of the hands of developers.
Another essential piece of the puzzle here when developing APIs is the developer portal.
A good dev portal lets you test things out, download SDKs, and see examples — all things important for consuming APIs. And all of these things can be automated through an APIOps flow.
Best practices for implementing API automation
To realize the full the of API automation, developers should typically adhere to some best practices:
Implement comprehensive testing: Automate testing across various scenarios, including positive and negative cases, security checks, and performance benchmarks.
Use version control: Utilize version control systems to track changes in APIs, ensuring transparency and accountability.
Maintain documentation: Keep detailed documentation for APIs and their automated processes to facilitate seamless onboarding and troubleshooting.
Implement security measures: Implement robust security protocols to safeguard APIs from potential vulnerabilities or breaches.
Set up monitoring and analytics: Set up automated monitoring and analytics to gain insights into API performance and usage patterns.
Automate error handling: Design automated error-handling mechanisms to manage unexpected scenarios and provide meaningful feedback.
Of course, automation for the sake of automation can create a mess. How do you manage the potential chaos that automation can introduce in an organization?
Unlocking a federated model is one big advantage of using an API gateway. An API gateway lets you extract some common API policies and things related to security, authentication, authorization, and telemetry (for example) and take those cross-cutting concerns away from the dev teams so they can focus on their areas of ownership.
API gateways for automation
A key technology for unlocking the potential of API automation is an API gateway. Gateways provide a central point to publish, secure, orchestrate, and analyze APIs.
Leading API gateway solutions address common use cases like:
Enforcing authentication, rate limiting, and other policies
Developer self-service for accessing APIs
API request transformation and enrichment
Caching to improve performance
Logging, monitoring, and alerting
The API gateway sits in front of downstream services and abstracts away unnecessary complexity. It handles cross-cutting concerns in a centralized way. This reduces duplicate logic in microservices. The gateway acts as the traffic cop, providing a bridge to access APIs.
The right gateway makes it easy to automate gateway configuration across environments using declarative approaches. Policies, routing rules, plugins, and more are defined as code rather than imperatively. The system reconciles the desired state specified in source control with the actual state.
Observability powers visibility
As applications get broken down into distributed microservices, comprehensive observability becomes critical. Teams need end-to-end visibility across services to quickly troubleshoot issues. This is where choosing the right API gateway becomes important.
API gateways provide several important observability benefits:
Centralized metrics for operational health monitoring
Logging of API requests/responses for troubleshooting
Trace correlation across services via headers
Analytics on API traffic and usage patterns
This API-level observability complements lower-level insights from service meshes and other tools. Together they offer a multilayered view of modern application architectures.
API automation is a key step in the modernization journey. It gives developers the tools to create, test, and deploy APIs efficiently. By embracing API automation best practices, developers can navigate the challenges of modernization and ensure applications are more agile, scalable, and resilient.