Users expect a seamless experience no matter the website they visit or what they want to do. If you visit an ecommerce website, you should be able to browse the inventory, select an item, submit payment, and set up delivery from the same interface.

However, many of these tasks require external services and data. Depending on the organization's approach, inventory, pricing, point of sale, and shipping data may all live in separate systems. Or the organization may rely on external services to accomplish certain tasks, like integrating with PayPal to process payments and integrating with UPS to provide delivery date and shipping cost estimates.

When time is short and your customers have easy access to competitors' websites, user experience is more critical to your business's success than ever. To combine capabilities and data from multiple systems, companies have turned to application programming interfaces (APIs).

APIs are purpose-built pathways for software applications to communicate with each other and share resources. With the rise of microservice architecture, API creation has accelerated to maintain data sharing across dozens of applications and accomplish complex tasks. Given that hundreds of APIs may exist within one organization, how do teams maintain visibility into each of these interfaces to ensure every API is functioning as intended?

IT teams turn to API management to govern their API ecosystems.

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API architecture diagram

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This video defines API management and provides sample use cases of API managers in action:

Benefits of API Management

APIs alone will not offer the oversight and visibility an organization needs to ensure they are meeting the needs of users while safeguarding their APIs from unauthorized access and malicious use. With proper API management, organizations gain the following advantages.

Governance and Security

API management ensures compliance with corporate policies and external regulations around data privacy. Businesses can also enforce rules around data governance and API security to ensure they are not leaving backdoors into their applications and sensitive data.

Security can also apply to limiting access to applications or users with the correct API keys or other authentication credentials. API management ensures only those with proper permissions can leverage its services.

Automation

API management also saves time for the developers who build these interfaces. Many management platforms support templatizing and automating the creation of APIs to eliminate redundant work and accelerate deployment.

The centralized directory of APIs also avoids duplicate work by allowing developers to check for APIs that may already fulfill their desired function. These new efficiencies allow the development team to follow agile methodologies without sacrificing quality or security.

API management diagram

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Analytics and Reporting

An API may log the requests it receives and its responses, but that data is not in a readily consumable format by default. API management tools provide analytics on usage so that developers can track the frequency of requests and identify popular services to guide future API development. These metrics can also be packaged into reports to share with the larger team and organization.

Distribution

Businesses use API management to create a developer portal where newly published APIs can be distributed along with their documentation. Sometimes known as an API store, this digital marketplace allows developers to search for APIs to meet their needs.

Onboarding

An API management system allows developers to store documentation in a portal where developers inside and outside the organization can access it. This centralized repository allows engineers to quickly implement the proper methods to call the API and know what response to expect, smoothing the onboarding process.

Now that you understand the benefits of API management for your organization, let's review the common capabilities of API managers.

API Manager Capabilities

API managers should streamline the governance processes for your APIs and also unlock new efficiencies for the development team building these interfaces. Here are some key capabailities to look for in an API management tool.

Access Control

Your organization may build an open API that is accessible to the public. However, you will also have APIs that are limited to certain users or applications. Access control allows you to dictate who has permission to request resources from the API. You may also segment access further so that privileges grant access to certain services but not others.

Authentication and Protection

If you implement access control, you will also implement authentication and protection protocols to verify the identity of users sending requests to the API. Without proper authentication, bad actors may steal access tokens or spoof credentials to impersonate authenticated users, leaving your API open to abuse and exploitation.

Design and Build Support

The best API managers won't just control access once the API is built, but support the entire creation process from designing to building. These platforms will also support maintenance of existing APIs and provide automated monitoring to detect outages for fast remediation.

Support for Different API Types

There are multiple API types and API architectures to serve different use cases. An API manager should not limit your organization to using either SOAP or REST APIs, for example. Instead, the API manager should be flexible to support whichever APIs you identify as optimal for your business's operations.

Developer Portal

Developer portals serve as a directory of available APIs and their documentation to allow subscribers to quickly discover services. The portal also supports efficient implementation for end users by providing documentation around proper formatting for requests and the expected results.

This video walks through one implementation of an API manager using MuleSoft AnyPoint, a tool that will be examined in a following section:

How to Evaluate an API Management Tool

Below are the common criteria for evaluating potential API management tools and how they support your organization's use case.

  • Quality: Does the API always deliver the requested data? Is that data complete and in a usable format? Developers expect high-quality deliveries from APIs, and external engineers may not always be able to discern if the data is compromised, making the quality of your API's responses critical for customer satisfaction.
  • Dependability: APIs need to be dependable above all else. If external websites are integrating your API into their operations, they do not want their functionality to suffer because your interface is down. By the same token, you do not want your organization's operations to suffer because of internal API outages.
  • Agility: Can your API satisfy more than one request type without sacrificing performance? The more flexible your API, the more adoption it will see. API gateways are another way that organizations achieve this flexibility by fielding multiple requests to different APIs and returning one comprehensive response.
  • Speed: Your API should be both dependable and quick. Requests should be answered in the shortest amount of time by providing only the specific information requested to reduce latency and decrease the time between the API call and response.
  • Cost: Does your API operate efficiently? If your interface is optimized for fast and lean responses to requests, then you should see cost savings by implementing APIs over more resource-intensive pathways to deliver data and services.

The best management tools will support all of these goals while providing greater control over and visibility into API usage.

API Management Tools

API management solutions offer the benefits and capabilities discussed above. Below is a selection of the tools available to manage your organization's APIs.

API management tools

Let's examine each in more detail.

1. MuleSoft Anypoint

Price: Free trial with paid plans available

MuleSoft Anypoint Flow Designer

The Anypoint Platform from MuleSoft is a cloud-based platform built to power the entire API lifecycle. It is built on open standards, offering the flexibility to connect with any application through rapid API creation and support for an organization's existing toolstack. In addition, the Anypoint Platform supports API deployment to the cloud, including IBM Bluemix and AWS, as well as SaaS tools like Box, Salesforce, and ServiceNow.

2. Boomi API Management

Price: Free trial with paid plans available

Boomi API Management UI

Boomi API Management is a single interface for connecting enterprise applications, databases, and cloud services through APIs. It offers a developer portal and catalog to search for APIs and build custom connectors, increasing knowledge sharing and flexibility. Users can also monitor the health of APIs through analytics dashboards and restrict access based on permissions to ensure only authorized parties can access data.

3. Akana API Management Platform

Price: Free trial with paid plans available

Akana API Management Platform UI

Akana API Management Platform is an all-in-one solution for designing, building, managing, and monitoring your organization's APIs. The platform is cloud agnostic and offers an on-premise version to provide maximum flexibility. Akana API Management Platform also focuses on API security and supports standard authentication methods, including OAuth, JWT, SAML, SSO, and LDAP.

4. IBM API Connect

Price: Free trial with paid plans available

IBM API Connect UI

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IBM API Connect is an API manager purpose-built to support DevOps. The platform provides a central integration platform for all of your organization's APIs and web services. API Connect offers enterprise-grade security centered on authentication, encryption, and real-time status monitoring. In addition, the platform integrates with open source tools for automated testing like Selenium and Jenkins, and it supports open standards for creating custom connectors like RESTful APIs.

5. Broadcom Layer7 API Management

Price: Pricing available on request

Broadcom API portal dashboard

Broadcom Layer7 API Management is an API manager with a focus on microservices and testing. The platform offers scalable testing strategies to validate APIs as well as real-time monitoring to detect outages. Layer7 also has a gateway solution that supports high performance through resource optimization to integrate and govern APIs at scale. It also provides a developer portal to power discovery, onboarding, and collaboration between engineers and subscribers.

Provide seamless user experience with API management.

APIs are a key component of modern websites, and API management is a central practice for organizations seeking to optimize their interface usage. API management tools allow developers to scale their creation of APIs while optimizing resource consumption and enforcing security rules.

By supporting efficient API usage, API management enhances the user experience by providing access to multiple sources of information and services so the user can accomplish complex tasks all in one window.

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Originally published Feb 4, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated February 04 2022