API management is a complex process that involves the design, publication, monitoring, and analysis of APIs in a secure manner. To address this challenge effectively, businesses can implement an enterprise API management solution which offers comprehensive features to manage APIs easily.
The article outlines the key benefits of API management platforms and explores its structural composition as well as how they help solve common challenges.
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.
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.
What is API Management?
API management is the process of creating and publishing APIs, enforcing governance and policies, implementing access control, and collecting API metrics for monitoring.
API management covers all aspects of the API lifecycle, including:
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are an indispensable part of how services communicate with one another in todays microservices-dominant world. Many organizations build or run their businesses on services that depend on APIs. And, although critical, the task of API management is complex.
Why is API Management Important?
APIs are everywhere. Heres an example: imagine youre 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.
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 thier 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.
Although APIs allow flexibility, they can 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 difficult.
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, its 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 wont 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. Fortunately, a proper API management platform can tackle all of these issues.
How does a API Management System Work
Lets briefly cover the core features and structure of an API management platform to explore how we manage APIs.
The API gateway is the main component of an API management platform. An API gateway is an API manager tool that sits between a client and a collection of backend services. It handles cross-cutting concerns across all of your APIs.
An API gateway provides a unified entry point for a collection of APIs. It accepts client requests and routes this traffic to the appropriate backend services. It then forwards the responses from those backend services back to the originating client. Clients access the API 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.
At its most basic, an API gateway functions as a reverse proxy. However, an API gateway can do so much more.
As the sole gateway to an application, the API gateway provides a conduit to access valuable analytical data, enact application-wide security measures, and improve API performance and the overall application.
Offloading these common concerns to the API gateway provides several benefits to organizations, including simplified and centralized communication with multiple APIs, improved performance, and usage monitoring and metrics.
Developer API 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.
API key management
API keys can be used for authentication. A user request can be paired with an API key that validates the user is who they say they are. Mandating API key usage is widely considered a best practice. API management platforms can make this easy by including API key management systems that are simple to set up and put into place. These restrict access to services and can be used to restrict access to data or control resource usage.
Analytics and monitoring
API management platforms may have analytics features to provide different types of dashboards with usage information. This can be valuable for planning and decision-making, and operational purposes.
API policy manager
The policy manager controls the API management policy lifecycles. Some API manager 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 organizations root level, then the 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 platform will have role-based access control (RBAC) features, allow authentication with certificates, and enforce encrypted communication with the client.
API lifecycle management
API lifecycle management helps organizations manage every aspect of the API lifecycle from design to development, testing, deployment, and (ultimately) sunsetting.
API management benefits
Why is API management important? The benefits of enterprise API management platforms are numerous. Here are a few.
When you manage APIs, it makes it easier to deploy and reuse API integration functionality. Developers like this because it saves them time; businesses like it because it saves money. And everyone is pretty happy with the fact that this ensures security is covered thanks to API management platforms being able to allow for integration with security protocols, such as OAuth. Speaking of security . . .
Organizations have to address security and governance when exposing APIs to internal and external users. This has become increasingly true as APIs have become the number one attack vector, according to Gartner.
With an API management platform, 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 whats deployed and where, whos calling what, and the security level of each API.
The right API management platform can improve application responsiveness, ensuring customers get the zippy digital experiences theyve come to expect. The performance also means a greater speed of innovation allowing developers to innovate faster with new services quickly without compromising on quality.
From an agile development perspective, new and upgraded features need regular deployment into production. This is only achievable if youve 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.
API management solutions come with lifecycle 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 theres no single point of failure in your API-based ecosystem. API management platforms 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.
Its 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 platform helps you with this process.
API product strategy
Enterprise API management can help with API product management. APIs are used as tools to build products. But today many companies open up their APIs as a product. Productizing APIs can create new revenue streams.
What to consider when 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-prem 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-prem 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.
API management strategy framework
Todays IT ecosystems have become decentralized and increasingly complex. This has led to a need for an API management strategy that accounts for working across cloud, hybrid, and on-prem environments without sacrificing the need for security and governance.
The right API management strategy involves selecting the right enterprise API deployment strategy and API management platform. Forming a strategy necessitates weighing requirements for the business and its applications with the needs of developers and users or customers. The process includes strategic considerations around operating models and the way development teams are structured.
With the growing reliance on APIs to build better applications and deliver more personalized digital experiences, many businesses are transitioning to an API-first operating model as part of their modernization strategy. This allows organizations to build applications faster, more efficiently, and effectively while speeding up time to market and ensuring scalability, reliability, and security.
It all starts with the planning phase. The design phase involves mapping resources and entities to business use cases. During this stage, define objectives and requirements and determine the audience, features, and functionality needed in your API. With this in hand, foundational design work can be done that will set the stage for the next phase: building your API.
In the development phase, developers work on the finalized blueprint. This is the phase where the API is built and its code is written. This can be done with a variety of programming languages and is ideally done using agile software development principles and DevOps best practices.
The testing phase is about . . . well, testing the published API in a non-production environment. But heres where a numbered list doesnt do the concept justice. Testing is a continuous process, thus the C in CI/CD (or continuous integration and continuous deployment).
4. Deployment and operations
This is where you release your API into the wild to a live environment. Of course, testing is never really done and it will continue here in the form of user or customer feedback. Youll also now want to monitor performance and usage and stay on top of maintenance and rolling out updates by going through the whole process over again. If any feature becomes unnecessary, that feature or API can be marked for removal. That takes us to the final stage...
6. Depreciation (aka retirement and sunsetting)
Eventually, it may become time to send your API to live on that digital farm upstate. When its no longer needed, youll want to inform users and offer a path to migrate to your new API.
Getting the most out of API lifecycle management requires ensuring APIs are reusable and consumable and implementing end-to-end automation throughout the process. (This can be accomplished by APIOps.) These requirements can both be met with the right API management platform.
Consistent and standardized governance is essential with APIs especially in highly regulated industries.
API management platforms can help organizations with API governance and security by:
Granting developers access via role-based access control (RBAC)
Adding fine-grained security and traffic policies that ensure consistency
Proactively identifying incidents and anomalies with autonomous monitoring
Granting the configuration visibility needed to more quickly resolve issues
API analytics let organizations keep tabs on stats around APIs and vitals. By tracking trends and patterns in real time, organizations are able to see how APIs and gateways are performing in the face of demand.
These insights are useful for making data-driven decisions, including understanding API usage, identifying growth opportunities, optimizing performance for a superior user experience, and proactively diagnosing issues that may impact uptime.
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.
In FinTech, financial services, and banking, API management can give a competitive edge around customers digital experience, increase and create new streams of revenue, and ensure security and compliance.
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.
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.
APIs also open up opportunities in retail for new channels and easy integration for partnerships, including loyalty programs and buy now, pay later options.
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.