APIs are an indispensable part of how services communicate with one another in today’s microservices-dominant world. Many IT organizations build or run their businesses on services that depend on APIs. However, although critical, the task of API management is complex.
In this article, we’ll look at how API management helps solve the challenges of using APIs. Then, we’ll look at the structure of an API management system, along with what an organization ought to look for when planning to use one.
Let’s start with a brief primer on the API.
APIs and their Challenges
An Application Programming Interface (API) enables two different application systems to communicate. With its standard, well-defined protocols for communication, an API abstracts away the implementation of the underlying service, which can subsequently be written in any programming language.
In the above diagram, we have a client application sending a request to an API service. The API internally communicates with the application and backend systems to retrieve data and perform computations. Then, the API responds to the client. Besides REST, API services can use other protocols, including SOAP, GraphQL, or gRPC.
Depending on how API endpoints are exposed, an endpoint can be public, private, and partner. API endpoints exposed to anyone on the internet are public. Clients can access these APIs through a token unique to their subscription. Private API endpoints are accessible only within the organization’s network. Partner API endpoints are also accessible over the internet, but only to authorized partner organizations.
Some Challenges with Using APIs
Although APIs allow flexibility, they also create challenges which include:
- Scalability: When you have an extensive API project, the task of scaling up the infrastructure to support demand can be complex and challenging.
- Security: APIs are subject to data exposure at rest and during transmission, making them a point of vulnerability and a security risk if sufficient security configurations are not in place.
- Versioning: Without API lifecycle management, it’s difficult to maintain different versions of APIs. These upgrades can break the application if multiple APIs are updated concurrently due to unforeseen incompatibilities.
- Throttling: Throttling ensures a surge of requests won’t render an API unresponsive. Without proper throttling management, a single broken API can affect the performance of the entire host infrastructure.
These challenges require sophisticated solutions. A proper API management system can tackle all of these issues.
An API management solution provides a set of standard practices for creating and publishing APIs, enforcing governance and policies, implementing access control, and collecting API metrics for monitoring.
Why is API Management Important?
Using an enterprise-grade API management system has many advantages.
From an agile development perspective, 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. This kind of management takes time and resources. However, API management solutions handle these settings in a more controlled way.
Scalability is an essential factor to ensure modern distributed applications are reliable. You can rapidly scale your API infrastructure with API management depending on usage patterns.
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.
API management solutions come with life cycle managers, which help you track multiple versions of APIs. Whenever API code changes, users are automatically redirected to the latest version. However, if a rollback is necessary, users will be seamlessly switched back to the old version.
High availability 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.
It’s best practice to monitor the performance of your deployed APIs. You can gauge 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.
Structure of an API Management System
Let’s briefly cover the core features of an API management system.
An API portal is a central place where API providers and consumers collaborate and share. From a provider’s 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 perhaps raise service requests for additional support.
The API gateway is the main component of an API management system. Clients access the gateway either graphically or through code, and the gateway routes the request to the correct upstream API service. An API gateway might be integrated with a gateway identity provider, by which consumers can authenticate and then be granted access. Also, an API Gateway can keep track of user requests—information that can be used for analytical purposes.
API Policy Manager
The policy manager controls the API management policy life cycles. Some API management systems 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 project level, and then at an individual API level.
API security helps protect your APIs from misconfigurations, excessive data exposure, insufficient logging, or non-optimal permissions. A sound API management system will have role-based access control (RBAC) features, allow authentication with certificates, and enforce encrypted communication with the client.
API Life cycle Management
API life cycle management helps organizations manage every aspect of the API lifecycle—from design to development, testing and deployment, and finally, sunsetting. The design phase involves mapping resources and entities to business use cases. In the development phase, developers work on the finalized blueprint. This is followed by testing the published API in a non-production environment and later deployment to the live environment. If any feature becomes unnecessary, that feature or API can be marked for removal.
The analytics feature of an API management system provides different types of dashboards with usage information. This can be valuable for planning and decision-making, and operational purposes.
What to Look for in an API Management System
When choosing an API management system, organizations need to look for specific features.
Cloud integration is an important feature to consider. Modern applications are cloud-native, and the API management solution must have native integration with your cloud platform of choice and other major cloud platforms.
API management systems 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-centric 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. A proper governance system helps in these situations, especially when multiple teams concurrently develop and modify code for different API projects. An API management system promotes consistent development standards across other groups. This results in cleaner, reusable code, fewer bugs, and shorter testing cycles. API management systems with built-in governance features are worth looking for.
A breached or hacked API can expose confidential financial, medical, or personal information. You must take this into account and remediate any security loopholes. However, doing this manually can create errors. A good API management product will assist you by proactively reporting any security anomalies.
Analytics and monitoring features are also important features to look for in an API management system. 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 system solves 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.
Kong Konnect Enterprise comes with all the features that a modern API management system should have. It’s available in both SaaS and self-managed versions. To see how it works, you can book a demo.