APIs have become an aspect of how software systems interact with each other. As more businesses embrace APIs, it continues to become crucial to handle and oversee them to ensure a dependable integration process between applications. API management encompasses the tools and services for publishing, monitoring, securing, and analyzing APIs. This article aims to give an introduction to API management by discussing its components and highlighting its significance for organizations that utilize APIs.
What is API Management?
API management (APIM) involves the governance of publishing, documenting and overseeing application programming interfaces (APIs) within an environment. APIs act as bridges between software programs, enabling them to communicate and interact with one another effectively. Therefore the overall objective of API management is to oversee the lifecycle of an API, and monitor its accessibility and usage. Effective API management ensures that the API delivers its value while minimizing any concerns or problems.
API Security - Authentication, authorization, and encryption is necessary to prevent unauthorized API access and cyber threats. One example of this is rate limiting which helps prevent sudden spikes in traffic.
Traffic Control - Similar to rate limiting, load balancing strategies help to distribute API traffic efficiently through caching and route mapping; furthermore, this helps improve performance by directing API calls to the correct endpoints.
API Documentation - Creating comprehensive API documentation for developer and internal use is key to successful API management.
API Analytics - Insights into API usage patterns, performance, and adoption not only helps with identifying issues and opportunities but it also gives insight into your return on investment.
APIM One Step Further: API Lifecycle Management
API lifecycle management refers to the end-to-end processes and governance practices involved in managing APIs across all stages of their lifespan - from initial design and planning to eventual retirement. It focuses on activities like requirements gathering, API modeling, establishing standards, development, testing, release preparation, publishing, versioning, monitoring, and sunsetting. The goal is to implement disciplined API governance and workflows across the complete development lifecycle.
In contrast, APIM refers more specifically to the tools and capabilities used to manage operational APIs that are already published and in use. This includes technical functionality like API gateways to control traffic, developer portals for documentation, analytics for monitoring usage, and security mechanisms like authentication and rate limiting. While API lifecycle management deals with the full breadth of API creation, management, and sunsetting, API management centers on the core publishing, security, and analysis of productive APIs.
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APIs are everywhere. Here's an example: imagine you’re booking air travel and using an online travel service to search for flights. Rather than belonging to a single airline, the site works by consuming APIs provided by multiple airlines and aggregating the data. Therefore using an enterprise-grade API management system has many advantages.
Agile Development: As companies scale, new and upgraded features need regular deployment into production. This is only achievable if you've clearly defined the environments and correctly set their associated configurations; consequently this kind of management takes time and resources. However, API management solutions handle these settings in a more controlled way.
Scalability: An essential factor to ensure modern distributed applications are reliable is the ability to scale performance. You can rapidly scale your API infrastructure with API management depending on usage patterns.
Preventative Security: Organizations must also address security and governance when exposing APIs to internal and external users. With an API management system, you can protect your APIs and the related subsystems with granular user authentication and authorization. You can also inject governance and policies into the published APIs. This allows organizations to track what's deployed and where, who is calling what, and the security level of each API.
High availability: HA ensures there's no single point of failure in your API-based ecosystem. API management systems provide a resilient and highly available infrastructure. It also helps you manage the throttling for each API endpoint by increasing or decreasing the threshold based on client-calling patterns. Monitoring: It's best practice to monitor the performance of your deployed APIs by gauging usage patterns, analyze performance trends, and make proactive decisions about infrastructure or application fine-tuning with effective monitoring. Once again, an API management system helps you with this process.
API Management Tools and Technologies
Let's briefly cover the core features and built in tools of a high performing API management platform. At its core, an API management platform consists of an API gateway that acts as the single entry point for all API requests. The gateway handles tasks like authentication, rate limiting, caching, and load balancing to secure and optimize API traffic flow. Connected to the gateway is a developer portal that provides API documentation, interactive consoles for testing, and often community forums. On the data side, API analytics tools allow monitoring of usage metrics, performance, adoption, and more.
API Gateway: The API gateway is the central component of an API management platform, acting as a single entry point for client requests to access backend services. It routes requests to the appropriate APIs and returns responses to clients. The gateway handles cross-cutting concerns like security, analytics, and performance optimization across all APIs. It provides centralized access control, usage monitoring, and improves efficiency by offloading common tasks from the services. Overall, the API gateway simplifies and secures communication with multiple backend APIs.
Developer Portal: A developer portal (sometimes called an API portal) is a central place where API providers and consumers collaborate and share. From a providers standpoint, the portal is where API developers can configure endpoints, document functionality, manage user access, and generate tokens or client keys. Consumers can register their application in the API portal, learn more about the functionality and exposed methods of an API, reset credentials, or raise service requests for additional support.
Analytic Tools: API management platforms often contain API analytics capabilities to track and visualize API usage metrics. Analytics dashboards can showcase important data points like total API calls, response times, throughput, uptime, adoption trends, and usage by application, developer, or geographic location. Overall, baked-in API analytics generate the actionable insights required for planning investments, guiding decisions, streamlining operations, demonstrating business impact, and ultimately optimizing the performance and ROI from an API program.
API Policy Manager: The policy manager controls the API management policy lifecycles. Some API management platforms provide out-of-box policy control mechanisms that can ensure authentication and authorization, transform incoming requests, check performance, and route API traffic without refactoring existing code. You can hierarchically enable policies. For example, starting at the organization's root level, then the project level, and then at an individual API level.
API Key Management: API keys enable secure access to APIs. Users provide a unique key alongside requests, allowing the API to validate their identity. Requiring API keys is a best practice for authentication. API management platforms simplify API key management through built-in capabilities. This allows providers to easily restrict API access, control data usage, and limit resource utilization by mandating API key usage. Overall, API key handling in API management platforms enhances security through streamlined, centralized access control.
Industry Use Cases and Examples
Across industries, API management has become a competitive differentiator, allowing organizations to speed up time to market and do more with less by tapping into developer-driven innovation without compromising on security. Here are a few examples of industry use cases of API management.
FinTech: In the financial services and open banking sectors, API management can give a competitive edge around customers digital experience, increase and create new streams of revenue, and ensure security and compliance. Common benefits include the ability to get started with API monetization, ensuring PCI compliance, and building an API strategy for open banking and embedded finance. Healthcare: In the healthcare industry, API management plays a critical role in building scalable, reliable applications and platforms with a security-first mindset. Protecting data is paramount in this industry, and API management platforms can help with controlling access to data, ensuring security, and meeting regulatory requirements. In addition, real-time observability and monitoring can further help support keeping organizations compliant and client data secure. In the biotech space, theres an additional demand for supporting data-driven innovation and transformative medicines and treatments. This is an area where a performant API management platform can help.
Retail and eCommerce: With so many retail purchases now hinging on digital experiences that are quick and highly customized, retail organizations often turn to API management to help handle millions of API calls per day across digital platforms and to accelerate API deployment time delivering those next-generation experiences to customers before the competition. Retail organizations also rely on API management to mitigate security risks for connections managing payment data and customer credentials.
Key Considerations For Choosing an API Management Platform
A breached or hacked API can expose confidential financial, medical, or personal information. Organizations must take this into account and remediate any security loopholes. However, doing this manually can create errors. A good API management product will assist by proactively reporting any security anomalies.
One huge reason organizations migrate infrastructure to the cloud is the ability to scale compute and container resources up and down as needed. Take into consideration the cost to support your applications under different volumes.
Doing more with less is a key consideration today, and IT infrastructure cost is under the microscope of efficiency-seeking leaders. For most organizations, some blend of on-premise and cloud is in play based on unique needs and workloads. Look for an API management platform that gives you the architectural freedom to run not only in the cloud and containers but in hybrid environments and on-premise data centers all without extra integration costs. Platforms that place restrictions on the number of API proxies processed or a separate application load balancer, a network load balancer, and an ingress controller in addition to the API gateway should raise a red flag.
Cloud integration is an important feature to consider. Modern applications are cloud native, and the API management solution you choose should have native integration and support for your cloud platform of choice (and other major cloud platforms) and Kubernetes.
Flexibility to Work in Your Environment
API management platforms can come in various deployment flavors. Some can allow self-hosting, others are managed SaaS-based products, while others can be a hybrid model. Make sure the product you choose aligns with your deployment strategy.
Organizations taking an API-first approach use internally developed APIs and third-party APIs. As an organization grows, the API landscape also increases, making manual API management an increasingly cumbersome function. Built-in governance features help in these situations, especially when multiple teams concurrently develop and modify code for different API projects. An API management platform promotes consistent development standards across other groups. This results in cleaner, reusable code, fewer bugs, and shorter testing cycles.
Analytics and monitoring features are a must for any data-driven organization. Many APIs have logging mechanisms, but this often results in several logs distributed across multiple servers, making it challenging to get a consolidated view of your logs. An API management platform should solve this issue by providing a unified and detailed picture of the performance and usage of each API.
Introducing Kong Enterprise
Today's API management systems have widely different feature sets. Some are advanced, while others are more targeted towards entry-level players. Kong Enterprise is an end-to-end API management platform that helps organizations securely develop, test, deploy, and monitor APIs across multi or hybrid-cloud setups. Kong Enterprise is platform- and technology-agnostic, giving enterprises wider deployment choices. Kong also has a thriving ecosystem of plugins and the framework for customers to create custom plugins within the system.
As software applications migrate away from monolith architectures to microservices, the API is the foundation for communication among services. If a modern IT organization is in the business of developing, deploying, and consuming APIs, then it is no stranger to the challenges of managing APIs. These challenges can be shouldered by an API management system, releasing organizations to return their focus to delivering core business value.
API management is a crucial component of your development and deployment strategy. APIs are the building blocks of modern applications and are essential for creating the extraordinary digital experiences customer demand.
With the right platform, API management delivers big business benefits around security, performance, scalability, and time to market plus the transformative benefits around developer productivity and doing more with less.