APIs: Please use responsibly

APIs are the glue of modern applications, a key part of next-generation architectures that encompass micro-services, containers, and the cloud. What’s more, they are growing at unbelievable pace – the internet’s giants are expected to soon reach a staggering one trillion API calls per day.

These connections enable advanced features, meaning weather data can appear in a travel app, or a car dealer’s stock can be listed on a vehicle portal. However, each new API creates risk by introducing new dependencies between two functions. If one side has an issue, both services can be affected, meaning mutual reputational damage.

Today, even one transaction can involve numerous connections between data centres, applications and third-party services, with data exchanges occurring through various channels. This complexity increases with each API addition, and technology teams can quickly face a mammoth task in keeping track.

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The benefits of APIs allow them to be approached with some optimism, but technology teams also need to tread carefully to avoid common pitfalls. Poor API governance will result in bad performance and leave back doors open for hackers to gain access, creating chaos that no business needs. Teams looking to increase their reliance on these tools will see the best results if they change their culture to suit this new landscape.

To compete in the current digital space, where services are highly interconnected, APIs are compulsory. With Ovum predicting that the API economy will be worth $2.2 trillion as early as next year, businesses are certainly taking notice, but the challenge is reaping the benefits while keeping control.

What you don’t know can hurt you

Businesses are best advised to focus on visibility and structure when it comes to dealing with APIs. Whereas monolithic applications have a more formal structure, the API driven world is granular, with countless microservices being connected at one time. This makes it much harder to find the root cause when a problem occurs.

Unfortunately, human nature means any ambiguity can lead to a blame game between team members and external parties — all while customers are left waiting. Giving teams specific tools to define and monitor APIs is therefore key and simple measures can be taken to implement this.

At the beginning of the building process, developers should assign new metadata to API connections to communicate function and location, while setting strict parameters such as I/O data and lifespan. This makes it easy for the right APIs to be found and shut down as required.

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Operations teams will also require monitoring tools that can track and baseline the flow of data between all of the moving parts for rapid troubleshooting. More advanced APM tools allow automated alerts to be set for critical functions, even contacting the relevant members of the team. This data can also be used as evidence if a third party API is not living up to its SLA.

Performance will be a key factor when deciding which companies to connect with and stats on their ability to fulfil a role are needed.

Of course, communications channels are equally important to ensure this information can be shared. This can involve simple measures such as chat facilities, a database of contact details and well planned rotas. Even informal socialising can have a significant impact on fostering understanding between teams.

Gaining efficiencies through APIs

While APIs do introduce complexity, they can increase efficiency in the development process. By linking up with external services, as Walmart did with the Google Home voice assistant recently, businesses can use APIs to add functionality that would be impossible to develop themselves. A similar scenario can be seen internally by reducing the amount of work repeated within the team.

If two simultaneous projects are using the same source of customer data, one to display on a website and one on an app, linking through APIs prevents the need to build this function again. In a continuous deployment scenario, where faster releases are the main goal, this will have a significantly positive effect.

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A DevOps methodology, which sees both development and operations gain a better knowledge of each other’s roles, will give the best results. This mutual understanding between teams will result in higher quality APIs, while speeding up releases. Customers and the wider business will quickly reap the benefits.

Creating a language everyone can understand

Anything that requires a cultural change is notoriously hard, particularly when it involves setting clear boundaries and introducing new administrative tasks. However, APIs will become overwhelming if managed with a legacy approach. Businesses with a limited number of APIs currently may be tempted to put these changes off, but all evidence suggests their use is only set to grow.

Creating a common goal for teams to aim towards will help improve efficiency while resulting in better performing applications. Rather than having teams think in terms of siloed operations and development metrics, the API economy requires all team members to consider the business impact.


Sourced by Justin Vaughan-Brown, director of Technology Strategy for EMEA at AppDynamics


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...