April 22nd, 2013

How to Make Your Developers Mobile Innovators (Psst… It’s in the API Presentation Layer!)

Mobile InnovatorsAPIs have multiple purposes inside an enterprise. Most of the early excitement around API stemmed from the potential for APIs to foster communities of “long-tail” developers. With data becoming the new mobile currency, opening up data to legions of developers held out the promise of multiplying revenue and reach for start-ups and enterprises alike.

While several start-ups have demonstrated the potential of tapping the long-tail developer community (look at examples like Twillio, Tapjoy, Stripe and Braintree) the number of enterprises that have seen similar success is less clear (Amazon Web Services is an obvious counterpoint).

One reason for this is simple – enterprises have conflicting interests and are almost never set up to successfully service these communities at all costs. This doesn’t negate the value of fostering relations with the long tail. External developer programs make sense for enterprises and should be viewed as strategic, even if the immediate payback is not obvious. With the advent of the app economy, developers represent as important a channel to market as traditional distributors.

However, often overlooked in the race to launch an external API developer program is the potential benefit of an internal API developer program. Enterprises have, in many cases, thousands if not tens of thousands of developers internally. Often, internal developers are supplemented by contractors. Enabling all these developers to become mobile innovators through APIs holds out the promise of delivering the kinds of leaps in productivity, agility and experimentation that will benefit any enterprise.

To make internal developers innovation leaders, it is essential to provide a canonical way for these developers to access all corporate application and data resources. An API abstraction layer delivered through an ESB or API Gateway simplifies the process of API-ifying information resources and consuming APIs.

But that’s not enough because developers will still need a central directory or registry of APIs to discover which APIs are available and what these APIs do. In the WS*-centered Web services world of SOAP-oriented APIs, which most enterprises still inhabit, this function would be handled by a UDDI directory and some accompanying “repository” software. But in the API world, no exact analog has existed – in part because every API Management vendor has insisted on provisioning its API portal in the public cloud only, a place most enterprises are reluctant to post APIs aimed at internal developers. Layer 7 aims to bridge the gap.

The Layer7 API Portal is the first turnkey API developer portal that can be deployed 100% inside a customer’s private cloud, datacenter or IT facility. Moreover, it is the first developer portal to offer simultaneous support for both RESTful APIs and SOAPy APIs, meaning it can act as a substitute for existing UDDI-style services while providing a pathway to newer RESTful services. Best of all, it can be implemented with different grades of privacy so that the same API Portal can support internal, contract and external developers at the same time – with each group seeing only what the enterprise chooses.

By centralizing where APIs are presented for discovery and consumption by developers, enterprises can make it easier for their service innovators to build new capabilities and mash multiple existing services into newer composite business functions. They can introduce new apps and applications faster. They can respond to change faster. They can build and iterate on new mobile apps in less time, with less error. It all comes down to the API presentation layer.

April 18th, 2013

Intel Buys Mashery! Is it Because the Cloud Will Have an API Inside?

Intel-MasheryFor close to five years, Intel has had a stake in the API space. All the while, I’ve often asked myself why. Intel originally acquired an API Gateway from a prior Intel Capital investment that never fully blossomed. And despite the oddness of having a tiny enterprise software franchise lost inside a semiconductor behemoth, Intel persisted in its experiment, even in the face of questionable market success and lukewarm analyst reaction. So, why double down on APIs now?

With the steady decline of the PC business, Intel clearly has to look elsewhere for its future growth. The cloud datacenter is not a bad place to start. Cloud server farms clearly consume lots of processors. Still, servers powering Web sites can operate fine without APIs, thank-you. But servers powering mobile is a different story. Mobile apps (whether HTML5, hybrid or native) get the data that makes them valuable from applications that reside in datacenters. And APIs are the key to letting cloud data be sharable with mobile apps.

Clearly, app-centric “smart” phones and tablets and TVs and cars and watches and glasses are changing the way we go about our daily business. And APIs will power these smart devices by giving enterprise and Internet companies a way to push their data to apps. That hope of bridging the cloud with mobile is probably why Intel has kept its current API product intact. Mashery broadens Intel’s API scope by providing a way to not only share data with mobile apps but now also the developers that build these apps. But will this plan succeed?

If it does, it will take quite a bit of time. The reality today remains that Intel – even despite the semi-recent McAfee acquisition – is not oriented to selling software or even cloud services into the enterprise. It’s missing the sales force. It’s missing the history. And in many ways, it’s missing the rest of the software stack it needs to power the networking, infrastructure and application parts that underpin data in the cloud. That will make selling an API platform comprising a legacy API Gateway and newfound API developer platform a harder proposition. It’s kind of out there alone.

Another obvious roadblock to making the Mashery acquisition successful is that Intel’s existing API Gateway and the Mashery API service are designed for two very different audiences inside the enterprise, with un-reconcilable needs. The API Gateway is designed for an IT department that wants to run its API Management layer in its own datacenter. The Mashery offering is designed for a non-IT buyer (a mobile program manager, say) who wants to run everything in someone else’s cloud.

One is technical, the other is not. One is on-premise, the other is SaaS. One sells traditional software licenses, the other pure subscription. The first aims to address internal and external API integration challenges. The latter is only really concerned with the challenge of acquiring external API developers (though Mashery would probably protest this point).

Will the two be a marriage made in heaven? Given that the Intel/Mashery partnership is already a year old and that Mashery was barely able to grow its revenues in that time, the likelihood seems remote. But who knows for sure? And anyway, Intel has probably not bought Mashery for its $12M in revenue but for its long-term potential as a pathway to mobile.

April 16th, 2013

Webinar Tomorrow: How to Choose the Right API Management Solution

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API Management WebinarOn Wednesday morning, Layer 7 will be hosting a webinar on How to Choose the Right API Management Solution. There are many solutions that cover one or two aspects of API Management – just a portal or just a Gateway or just access control. However, a truly comprehensive API Management platform needs to provide a broad range of functionality in the management of four distinct areas: identity, developers, interfaces and operations. We’ll delve into each of these areas and discuss what to look for from your solution.

We’ll also talk about the “-ilities” of an API Management platform: scalability, manageability, extensibility etc. We will illustrate each of these with a real-world Layer 7 customer example. You’ll see why these and other non-functional requirements matter just as much as the solution’s technical capabilities.

So, please join me and Layer 7 Product Manager Dana Crane as we discuss these key API Management criteria tomorrow. There will be time for questions – both technical and conceptual – and all attendees will receive a free copy of the recently-published Forrester Wave for API Management Platforms. See you tomorrow!

Register now for How to Choose the Right API Management Solution >>

April 16th, 2013

The Emergence of Hyper-Personal Commerce

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Omni-Channel CommerceAdvances in commerce are on my mind today for several reasons. First, I am attending the RAMP Advanced Commerce & Mobile Retail Services Summit. Second, Layer 7 just announced an exciting new partnership with Elastic Path, the first commerce platform to unify the commerce experience through a common API access point. And finally, I have noticed a recent surge of demand for Layer 7’s API and identity capabilities to deliver new omni-channel, hyper-local functions to retailers, consumer marketers and payment/credit providers. It’s clear that eCommerce is undergoing a sea change.

Mobile devices and social media have multiplied the number of touch-points available for engaging buyers. The line between retail and “eTail” has grown blurry as location increasingly defines all shopping experiences. Big Data now makes it possible for marketers to tailor promotions to every shopper, based on buying history and inferred intent. And API-driven architectures provide a way to tie all online channels, data sources and cloud services together in an event-driven, context-aware network that can engage buyers wherever they are.

All these elements assembled together suggest a new era of personalized commerce. This will place the buyer back at the center of a commerce universe of disparate data, mobile, cloud and social elements that will converge to deliver him or her a more exact shopping experience tailored to his or her choice preferences at that point in time and that place in space.

For Layer 7, this convergence of trends that puts the shopper at the center of an API-connected ecosystem plays to two particular strengths. Firstly, it leverages Layer 7′s leadership in networking enterprise, mobile, social, cloud and partner services via APIs. Secondly, it cements a concept of enhanced identity, where a fuller user profile can be built around an ID to deliver a more complete view of that subject. Both will be essential for delivering on the vision of highly-personal commerce that spans online channels, is location-aware, leverages multiple data sources and can determine a context-specific action across mobile, payment and Web services.

To learn more, read the API-Driven Omni-Channel Commerce solution brief >>

April 12th, 2013

Want ROI from Your APIs? Then Lower the Cost of Building Them

Internal and External DevelopersI often hear the term “ROI” used in reference to an API program. Often, it is the discussed in the context of getting either direct revenue from an API or growing reach from an API, which in some places, translates into a lower cost of customer acquisition. While both direct revenue and reach are admirable goals, ROI from an API program is not limited to the number and quality of external developers.

For instance, most organizations will derive far more immediate payback from an API initiative if it enables internal developers, enterprise mobility initiatives, tighter partner integrations or even IT rationalization through hybrid cloud. Each of these endeavours will pay dividends in terms of productivity, agility, distribution and lowered IT costs. Each deserves its own dedicated discussion. However, underpinning all of these API business drivers  – external developers included – there is one often-overlooked consideration for cost and return in any API program: how do you introduce and innovate new APIs cost effectively?

Obviously, there are many ways to stand up an API. Many packaged software applications have some kind of API already, even if some are XML- or SOAP- centric. But in many instances, nothing exists except the desire to expose a piece of functionality or quantity of data as an API. Programmers can obviously build “programmable  interfaces” onto almost anything. It just takes time and people. However, the results will be brittle and the journey expensive.

A faster, less costly and more flexible route is to use an adaptation layer that can talk to various application or data backends and dynamically render one or more as an API. Using a backend adaptation layer can, with the right product, also solve the related problem of iterating on an API, both in terms of versioning but also composition. Add to that the promise of facilitating new business functionality by orchestrating API interactions with external mobile, social and cloud services and you get a pretty compelling ROI story.

Not surprisingly, Layer 7 provides such an adaptation layer. Our API Gateways provide more than just security and management; they simplify backend connectivity, new API formation (i.e. composition) and novel orchestrations with all kinds of cloud, social and mobile services. Like many of our API compatriots, we provide tools that help enterprises build and foster developer ecosystems. But we also realized early on that much of the cost and potential of an API program will rest on how quickly and cost-effectively new services can be launched and evolved. Something worth considering the next time you evaluate the ROI of an API program.