Jaime Ryan

Jaime Ryan

Jaime Ryan is the Partner Solutions Architect at Layer 7 Technologies. Jaime has been building secure integration architectures as a developer, architect, consultant and author for the last 15 years. He lives in San Diego with his wife and two daughters.

June 14th, 2012

Geofencing & Mobile Access Gateways

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Category API, BYOD, Mobile Access
 

GeofencingOne of the cooler features offered by Siri on the iPhone is its integration with the internal GPS for geofencing. For instance, you can tell her (yes, I just anthropomorphized a disembodied mobile phone app) to “remind me to pick up some milk when I leave the house”. While this geofencing application is very consumer-centric and a nice-to-have, geolocation (and geofencing) is often a must-have for enterprise mobile apps.

At Layer 7, our enterprise customers are sometimes constrained by industry regulations regarding data privacy. These restrictions, especially in the healthcare and financial services industries, often prohibit medical or financial data from traveling across international (or even state) borders, to ensure compliance with local regulations. Some may require additional forms of authentication when connecting from a new physical location.

Many enterprises are also rolling out BYOD initiatives based on the employee’s proximity to company offices – they can use their own phones to access company data while in the office but that access is restricted when they head for home. More complex GIS integration is sometimes necessary for mobile employees and field technicians.

Building strict geolocation rules into every mobile application is possible but time-consuming to develop and difficult to maintain. Managing these policies in a centralized Mobile Access Gateway allows flexibility of design and easy updates. Compliance auditing is simplified and policies are reusable and configuration-driven. If you want to tighten distance restrictions or change GIS providers, you only have to make the change once.

Layer 7′s SecureSpan Mobile Access Gateway is far more than just a simple API proxy. It provides mobile-specific features around identity, security, adaptation, optimization and integration. It is these integration features that allow powerful orchestration of third-party APIs (including geolocation), legacy applications and mobile notification services for a truly comprehensive Mobile Access solution.

June 8th, 2012

Layer 7 at Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit

Gartner Security and Risk ManagementNext week (June 11-14), Layer 7 will be exhibiting at the Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit near Washington, DC (in National Harbor, MD). Speakers will run the gamut from Michael Dell to the Cybersecurity Coordinator for the White House, because enterprises and governmental organizations share a serious interest in securing data and applications.

The combination of security and risk management is particularly interesting these days, as rapid migration to Cloud and Mobile has introduced a new set of risks. These new platforms raise issues around compliance, information security and identity management, which can only be addressed with a comprehensive approach to security, using proven technology.

If you’re at the show, stop by and visit Layer 7 at Booth 92. We’d love to demonstrate how our SOA Governance and API Management solutions can counteract the risks involved with adopting these new technologies. Our solutions – flexibly deployed on-premise or in the Cloud – provide control over data and applications being exposed to partners, Cloud and Mobile.

And our industry-leading technology has been certified at the highest levels for use in both corporate and governmental organizations – PCI-DSS compliance for retail, STIG vulnerability testing for the DoD, FIPS 140-2 for cryptographic functionality and Common Criteria certification for overall security.

Don’t let the risk outweigh the reward – come talk to us!

June 1st, 2012

The Oracle-Versus-Google Verdict Comes Down

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Oracle-Google VerdictWhew! That loud sigh of relief you hear reverberating from Silicon Valley is a reaction to yesterday’s Oracle-Google ruling, which declared that APIs are not protected by copyright. While this case could be far from over – Oracle may appeal and force another $50 million round of litigation – a knowledgeable judge and a well-argued 41-page decision will likely make for a strong precedent.

In the few weeks, since I last discussed this case, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. While some techies provided commentary supporting Google’s position, more responses came in the form of questions about APIs themselves. Are programming language APIs different from Web, Cloud or other APIs? Does Oracle deserve special consideration due to the time and effort invested? Can one API be “better” than another?

Language APIs certainly appear to be different from Web APIs. They are bound to language syntax and define local functions, which are then compiled or interpreted into bytecode and executed on a low-level platform. Web APIs, on the other hand, are generally language-independent and use basic networking protocols to execute remote services often hosted by an external party.

However, there is an important common bond defined in the acronym itself. Each API is defining an interface to some actual functionality or data. To use a travel metaphor, APIs are not a destination – they are the directions to that destination. Whether it’s a Java class definition, an Amazon S3 storage operation or a Netflix catalog request, an API describes how to do something, get something, calculate something etc.

Because an API is simply a method for accessing an application (the implementation of which is protected under the law), there are many ways to describe the interface, some “better” than others. And Sun Microsystems (later purchased by Oracle) did put time and effort into its creation of a highly-structured Java API.

But structure and complexity are not necessarily the hallmarks of a superior API, as we’ve seen with the move from SOAP Web services to REST-based APIs over the past few years. In fact, generic self-describing APIs simple enough to be navigated without documentation by man or machine are now considered the pinnacle of success, at least according to the Richardson Maturity Model.

When it comes to whether or not APIs can be copyrighted, I happen to be in favor of the ruling as it stands, if only to avert disaster in the IT industry. By taking a strong stand on the issue (even with caveats around extending this ruling to other case law), the judge has possibly prevented a whole new round of lawsuits that could have rivaled the still-ongoing Apple/Samsung/Google patent wars. The last thing the tech world needs is more distractions from all of the fantastic innovation taking place today.

So for now, we can continue to focus on how to secure and govern the applications and data being exposed via APIs. Access to that functionality is the true value of an API and needs to be protected by both technology and the law.

(See Groklaw’s review of the decision for more trial details.)

May 30th, 2012

Where Did Siri Go?

IBM Versus SiriRecently, there’s been some media focus on the limits of BYOD, especially relating to businesses disallowing certain smartphone features. This article on IBM’s somewhat restrictive BYOD guidelines mentions outright bans on technologies like Dropbox and Siri. As an ex-IBM employee, a geek in a partner-facing technical role and a smartphone user, I’m particularly intrigued by the lines drawn by corporations in cases like this.

As the variety of available business apps and mobile devices continues to grow exponentially, enterprises will find it increasingly difficult to place such rigid limits on BYOD. Employees are already beginning to feel entitled to use apps that make them more efficient. In some case this may mean that employees will knowingly use banned apps. If businesses want to avoid this kind of insubordination, they will have to work with their employees, not against them.

One part of the solution is a focus on education rather than overly-strict technological bans. Another is embracing the concept of BYOD rather than fighting it. For instance, many of our customers provide their own apps to run on employee-owned devices. We focus on providing these customers with solutions that allow them to make BYOD secure and manageable, without having to ban apps or impose invasive mobile device management software.

The rest of the solution will come from Cloud and mobile vendors taking steps to make their technologies more enterprise-friendly. This means, for example:

  • Apple will need to recognize its prevalence in the enterprise market and take steps to certify iCloud and Siri for business use.
  • Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive will need to deliver terms of service that assuage fears rather than fostering them.

No one has all of the answers yet and I suppose you can’t blame IBM for a cautious approach but the most successful BYOD initiatives are likely going to be those that are flexible enough to avoid alienating employees. How else will we know what happens when Siri is asked to open the pod bay doors?

May 18th, 2012

The Secret Lives of REST APIs

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Netflix APIThe recent enterprise acceptance of lightweight REST-based protocols for exposing data and application assets as APIs has been due, in large part, to the simplicity of the resulting interfaces. This simplicity means there is little barrier to entry for developers wishing to consume these APIs in applications built for mobile, Web, desktop, Cloud and gaming platforms. However, as this article from Netflix’s Daniel Jacobson reveals, simplicity can’t be the only goal when designing an API. Flexibility, scalability, optimization, orchestration and adaptation are just a few of the features required in a successful API infrastructure.

At Layer 7, our enterprise customers build incredibly elegant API platforms using our API management technology. Our solutions recognize that one size does not fit all and we provide the tools to adapt to changing requirements without re-architecting new APIs from scratch. Though we certainly support the simple “large number of known and unknown developers” use case Jacobson describes – with robust, scalable technology deployed on a wide variety of hardware, virtual, software and Cloud platforms – we can also address the specific concerns raised by the variety of devices and environments in Netflix’s ecosystem.

Message size, structure and delivery constraints due to device variation represent a large part of the problem. Layer 7 Gateways support the relevant formats and transports and can perform message transformation and protocol mediation on the fly. Policy-based configuration enables custom “virtual” APIs tailored to each device, community of developers or calling application. These format and behavioral changes can be explicit or can be triggered by user identity, app permissions, message content or transaction metadata. Even more complex mediations, such as REST exposure of internal SOAP-based assets, are simple to configure and help to reduce re-implementation costs.

Interaction models can also be optimized and tailored to the calling platform. Composition of comprehensive document-based APIs from multiple backend calls can reduce chatty client interactions. Conversely, small messages from memory-constrained devices can be aggregated into larger, less frequent backend calls. Mobile traffic can be optimized using persistent HTTP(S) connections and over-the-wire compression. And content can be cached at any level of granularity, using an in-memory cache like Terracotta, to reduce the number of calls to the application backend.

As director of one of the world’s most broadly adopted public APIs, Jacobson’s most profound observation is that “public APIs are waning in popularity and business opportunity and… the internal use case is the wave of the future.” API infrastructure needs to support everyone – open API developers, internal coders, contracted development teams and partner groups – especially as mobile workforce enablement and BYOD gain popularity. Layer 7 solutions allow enterprises to make that distinction clear through public vs. private APIs, configurable classes of service and role-based access control.

Jacobson mentions several piecemeal solutions that he and others have attempted to compile into a working platform but notes that those approaches still fall short. Providing an enterprise-grade REST API is no simple feat and it’s great that the truth of the matter is starting to come out. The benefits of a successful API strategy are numerous and well-documented. Layer 7 is the only vendor providing an API management solution that incorporates all the basic necessary functionality and much, much more.