In the era of Web and mobile applications, a new style of API shows signs of becoming the next widespread requirement for a successful business. The trend relies on SOA at its base, but seems to be quickly taking services interfaces into business suites that were once off limits to discussion of SOA. Underlying the trend is a new class of tools that promise API management.
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Facebook, Twitter and Google were among a slew of start-ups that opened up their interfaces to the general world of developers over the Web. These APIs differ from traditional close source APIs, and from the typical WSDL contracts of early SOA, but they do have some resemblance. The trend to the new lighter API has not gone unnoticed by traditional SOA hands. Among these is Alistair Farquharson, CTO, SOA Software Inc., Los Angeles, Calif. Farquharson says the new API style will change the way people do business. It may change the way apps are developed as well.
“We find that what happens inside organizations is that businesses are reaching out to developers," said Farquharson. "This is what API management is all about: It's about the relationship between the business and the developer. That's slightly different from SOA. SOA has been traditionally—maybe not originally intended to be, but over time—perceived as a behind-the-firewall kind of technology.”
“What's happening with API management today is being driven by the business. The buyer is now a business person as opposed to an IT person, and the person that they're trying to reach, or the actual user of the product, is the developer. So they're making a lot of business-to-developer interactions,” he continued.
He admits that classic SOA governance products are IT-architect-centric – appealing to neither the business person with the budget nor the developer with the job of implementing services. “Right now I feel that the buyer is more a business person that's trying to create a new channel and a new market for an API,” he said. Yet business-side managers will need to re-think strategy when taking the public API route.
“Businesses really need to focus on APIs as channels for the product,” said Farquharson. “APIs need to be considered or looked at as a product—an extension of an organization's brain, a whole new channel that they can do business in. That comes along with its own problems.” The problems can stem from unfamiliarity – few organizations have the Web 2.0 technical acumen of a Facebook or Google.
Says Farquharson, “Most organizations are not Facebook, Twitter or Netflix. Most organizations don't really have the domain knowledge and the expertise to expose an API. They don’t really know how to reach the developer and create the developer community.”
“It's not just the high-level things about what an API should look like. It's more pragmatic things about how you support a whole bunch of developers when you're used to supporting a completely different set of consumers, a completely different channel,” he added.
By allowing others to use the API to build, manage and maintain their own apps, companies can – to some extent - outsource app-building. They reap the benefits—like reaching a wider range of customers and reducing operational costs—without actually building, managing and maintaining the apps themselves, according to Farquharson, whose firm has forged a new Atmosphere product line to address API management issues. It is too early to gauge how prominent API management will become, but it is one of the more interesting recent developments in the SOA space, and will be closely followed by many.