So, you’ve made a business decision to offer open APIs to create new opportunities for revenue and market expansion. You see the strategic value in this approach and are anxious to get some experience with this new business model. Now what?
Evaluating a Custom API Solution
Do you task your IT department to build or assemble the infrastructure needed to host and manage this environment? Or do you get on the phone and start shopping around for a commercial software solution?
The answer: it depends.
Before you can make a decision, you need to define the problem you are trying to solve. A good API management solution needs to meet the needs of many different constituencies.
API Providers (Internal Developers & Product Managers)
- Catalog for organizing/publishing APIs
- A place for documentation, sample code, usage tips
- Templates or wizards to build consistent API structures
- Ability to map REST & SOAP service calls
- Monitor & report on API usage/performance
API Consumers (External Developers & Channel Partners)
- Catalog for discovering/consuming APIs
- Self-service portal to signup, request keys, select payment options and support plans
- Ability to test services, conduct trial usage
- Monitor & report on API usage
- Manage API developer and partner accounts
- Provide secure API access and threat protection
- Implement runtime policies for throttling, routing, mediation, etc.
- Monitor SLAs and API performance
Many companies have a hodgepodge of middleware, some of which can be repurposed to provide some of the functionality listed above. For example, a standalone services gateway product can provide the infrastructure needed for runtime administration, but typically does not provide developer portal capabilities, or the analytics engine that API developers and consumers require.
If most of the individual components of an API management platform are in place, then you might be able to get away with developing some glue code to get the individual components to work together. However, this approach generally requires a level of access to product internals that most products don’t provide APIs for, so the integration approach can be a hit-or-miss proposition. If you’re not careful, rolling your own integration of middleware products can require a lot more custom coding than you may want to do to. But, under the right circumstances, a custom integration approach can result in a solution that’s highly customized to your business needs. You have to look at this on a case-by-case approach.
The other approach is to purchase a commercial API management platform. The biggest benefit to this approach is a rapid deployment timeframe. There are numerous options available on the market today, including the recent release of TIBCO API Exchange. Another major benefit of purchasing a commercial solution is that all the moving parts should be well-integrated out of the box, and customizable to support requirements like private branding and UI customization.
A word of caution is in order here: Some vendors provide well-integrated marketing materials, but not a product that necessarily delivers on the seamless experience that’s promised. I highly recommend that you use a trial version of a product before you purchase, or talk to someone you trust who’s currently using the product.
Commercial products also give you a lot of flexibility in terms of your purchasing and deployment options. It’s easy to find products that can be purchased as a SaaS solution (cloud hosted), or as a traditional on-premise product that’s priced with a perpetual license. Having the flexibility to move between a cloud, on-premise, or hybrid solution over time provides a degree of “future proofing” for your deployment architecture.
Regardless of whether you choose to build or buy to support the implementation of your open API initiative, just make sure you don’t cut corners on functionality. The ultimate success of your initiative will depend on how well you meet the needs of the different constituencies that are all part of your open API ecosystem.
For more information on our current solution in this space, explore ActiveMatrix.