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API technology helps developers glue services and data together

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As the number of APIs used by enterprises soars, tight control and security must be balanced against unfettered access and ease of use. Such is the state of API technology.

To build comprehensive systems, it's necessary to unite disparate applications, services, data sources and providers into something resembling a cohesive whole. It's a multicloud world after all. Connecting the pieces of this mosaic -- cloud integration -- calls for a powerful glue. That glue, API management, is the mission of Denver-based Cloud Elements.

Mark Geene, co-founder and CEO, Cloud ElementsMark Geene

"Cloud Elements is an API integration management platform," company co-founder and CEO Mark Geene says. "There are millions of APIs that have been published, but they don't always work together out of the box." The problem, he says, is that APIs have different data models and structures. "We help developers unify those APIs and enable them to work together."

The reliance on API technology for building expansive systems continues to grow and shape the technology landscape. One need look no further than Red Hat's July acquisition of API management vendor 3Scale as evidence. "We're starting to see a maturation of the API market," Geene says. "Companies of all types -- financial services, transportation, retailers -- are now publishing APIs."

The challenge of the future is unifying, organizing and enabling APIs to work together so you don't end up with an enterprise with hundreds or thousands of islands of data.
Mark GeeneCloud Elements

According to Gartner, corporate spending on API management is expected to hit $660 million in 2020, up from a relatively paltry $140 million in 2014. In the telecommunications sector, Zion Research is forecasting annual API market growth of 22% from 2016 to 2021. This rapid expansion is leading large cloud services providers to wield their power in an effort to consolidate and bring order to that expansion. Geene cites Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Red Hat as examples, moving to incorporate API technology into their proprietary platforms and products.

API technology producer-consumer model

The API explosion has led to a producer-consumer model, with some companies that developed APIs for internal use now making them available to customers, and other companies now explicitly in the business of creating and publishing APIs for consumption by developers. The rise of this new mini-industry is creating a need for management techniques, Geene says.

The first generation of API management was all about publishing APIs -- getting them defined, documented and secured, according to Geene. "Now that developers have figured out how to publish APIs, the management challenge is shifting around to how to consume APIs." That consumption may be using API technology to build new applications or integrate existing applications together.

Keeping API integrations under control 

The fragmentation of enterprise computing technology into dozens of pieces is perhaps the biggest challenge the cloud presents. A few legacy, on-premises applications are now giving way to small microservice components running inside containers hosted on multiple clouds and multiple software-as-a-service providers and storing data on multiple locations.

"The proliferation of APIs has followed the proliferation and fragmentation of the applications market," Geene says. In one CIO's marketing automation department, 33 applications are in production, each with its own API and data structures. The human resources department is using another 18 applications, though there may be more that the CIO is not aware of. Each app is its own island of data, and each API has its own domain model and structure. "The challenge of the future is unifying, organizing, and enabling APIs to work together so you don't end up with an enterprise with hundreds or thousands of islands of data," he says.

Cloud Elements' goal is to take control of the jumble, to be a platform that enables applications developers to unify APIs so that they can work together. "IT, when it relates to APIs, is about governance and control," Geene says. But, that's not the case for users, he contends. For departmental line-of-business users, the issue is one of speed and getting multiple apps to interoperate in a seamless manner. "They're interested in the speed of getting something done, not in the control or governance of it," he says. "It used to be bring your own device, now it's bring your own app."

Joel Shore is news writer for TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Write to him at [email protected] or follow @JshoreTT on Twitter.

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