API Management Platforms – do I need one?

One thing every enterprise API creator needs to think about at some point prior to the API going to production is whether an API Management Platform is required.

The main ones that I looked at when we were in the design phase of our API were:

  1. Mashery (http://www.mashery.com/)
  2. Apigee (https://apigee.com/)
  3. 3 Scale (http://www.3scale.net/)
  4. Layer 7 (http://www.layer7tech.com/)

There are lots of others out there, but these four seem be the most active contributors to the API Management community.

What exactly is an API Management Platform?

All of these platforms all fundamentally do the same thing, but each have their nuances and provide different features and functions.

Generally they act as a proxy between your API and the customer, consuming application, or partner.

 

These platforms protect your back end services by limiting the customer to a certain number of allowed queries per second (QPS) or queries per day (QPD).

This prevents a user from inadvertently performing a DoS through poor coding or some form of attack.  If they can only get through a small number of QPS, they’ll bring down the API Management Platform before they’ll bring down your service.

Along with this, they also generally provide:

  • API Key & Authorisation Management
  • Usage Reporting and Analytics
  • Live documentation (Swagger/io-docs)
  • Developer Community Management
  • Billing and Payment Management

Why not just build it myself using mod_qos?

Our network administrator was adamant (and still is) that he could build all of this for me with without the need to pay an external vendor.

Projects like Apache’s mod_qos provide an excellent solution for throughput management, this bundled with an analytics engine (awstats) and you’ve got half the service done right?

Wrong. Do you really feel like designing all of the features and functions specifying exactly what you need.  How long is that going to take with all of the other stuff your network guy (or girl) has to work on? What about ongoing support, maintenance, new features… don’t you have an API programme to be worrying about?

The beauty of these SaaS/PaaS providers is that they’ve done the thinking for you, and they are generally experts in the area, so they know what you want before you do!

They also generally have great Partner and API Growth programmes, so if you can get your API on their marketing ticket, then you’re kickstarting your growth before you’ve even lifted a finger.

We had web demo’s from both Mashery and Apigee, and in the end we ran with Mashery.

Implementing an API Management Platform

The main reasons we chose Mashery was that it seemed very simple and easy to use, their price point was right for us, they had all of the features out of the box that we were looking to implement, and they could stand up an environment for us quickly.

They’ve got some really smart people and they will give you some valuable insights into usage patterns, similar use cases and implementation best practices.

When implementing an API management platform, you’ll also need to think about:

  1. The UI of your developer portal; they can help you with implementation, but the design is up to you
  2. Sandboxing/Trial access for your developers and the associated registration flow
  3. Documentation of your API; are you just going to use swagger/io-docs or are you going to manually write the documentation.
  4. Network level access; whitelisting/blacklisting and firewalls.

Downsides/Pitfalls of using an API Management Platform

  • Change Requests, customisations can be difficult to get approved, and can be costly
  • VSMT isn’t really supported, so stick to generic content types
  • It can be harder to debug issues (timeouts, network access, authentication)
  • Their downtime (if any) may reflect poorly on your API

In the end, it really does come down to what will work in your organisation.  In my opinion, I believe there is value in using an API management platform.

Their whole purpose is to assist your company in building out your APIs, so it’s in their best interests to help you grow.

It will assist you with;

  • Speed to market
  • Accordance with best practices
  • Out of the box reporting, key management and developer portal/CMS
  • Network opportunities with other organisations

However, this may come at an up-front cost, and a bit more effort to get things going.

Happy to answer any questions, or even introduce you to my good friend Jason (from Mashery). Just leave a comment.

Jord

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2 thoughts on “API Management Platforms – do I need one?

  1. Hi Jord – can you give me an idea of how the different ones stacked up in terms of price relative to one another?

    1. I’m happy to be corrected here, but from what I can tell 3Scale is really good for an entry level (given their free developer edition). The other three I would consider Enterprise. I know APIgee offers a free cloud version, and Layer7 and Mashery offer a 30 day trial. I’d guess that next up in price after 3Scale would be Layer7, then Mashery and APIgee are comparable.

      It also heavily depends on the number of API calls per month you are expecting to push through, and the number of developer accounts you are looking to manage.

      For 300 odd developers and 50-100k calls per month, for 3scale its around $1k per month, the rest are more in the $5k+ bracket.

      For more accurate info however, you’d be best to talk directly to them.

      J.

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