January 25th, 2013

Considerations for Private APIs

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Considerations for Private APIsIn the past, we’ve talked about the nature of private APIs (those interfaces that are built primarily to serve an organization’s own projects rather than to fulfill the needs of others).  But what are the specific challenges and architectural decisions that need to be made when implementing a private API?

First and foremost, an API can’t be considered private if it is open for widespread public use, right?  A simple way of keeping an API private is to host the interface on a public network without explicitly advertising or documenting its existence.  This can work well initially but may lead to problems in the future. If your service is valuable enough that others want to get their hands on it, even an undocumented, unsupported, private API can easily end up becoming a depended-upon API for application developers, resulting in an outcry when the API publisher has the audacity to modify or retire its own service.

A better approach is to provide access control at run-time and restrict usage of your API to a few known parties. There are a great number of methods for protecting access to internal resources but the best ones are those that achieve a balance between ease of implementation and resistance to infiltration. Security at all costs can greatly increase the complexity of an interface and – in turn – the time required to complete the projects that depend on it. Instead, we need to implement access control that is practical. Thankfully, security protocols like SSL, HTTP Basic authentication and OAuth 2 are great for providing the basic level of access control needed to make it difficult for outsiders to use a private API. Bear in mind that there is much more to API security than simply validating identity but this is the minimum level needed to ensure a degree of privacy.

Although a private API’s developers are generally known to the publisher, the best private APIs utilize API portal components to provide self-service registrations and integration to their private developer communities. This can greatly reduce the friction involved in getting API integration-based projects started and reduce the overall project costs for B2B and mobile-based initiatives. In fact, many of the lessons of simplified design, documentation and administration learned from the public API world can be directly applied to private API management. While the ultimate goal may be different (driving efficient API usage for private APIs rather than far-reaching adoption of open APIs), the ways of getting there are largely the same.

A unique characteristic of private APIs is the need to manage groups of developers. Unlike the public API space, private API publishers will often define out of band contract terms before offering up a quick self-service integration mechanism for that team. This type of group-based role definition is particularly common in integration projects that occur between organizations and can stretch the limits of API portal software that has been built primarily for open API use. Ideally, an API portal should at least be capable of managing developers within groups, communities or organizational affiliations as part of the self-service registration process. Even better, the portal could  provide capabilities for managing whole communities as separate domains within the same infrastructure.

Designing a private API certainly requires a different perspective but the good news is that much of the knowledge around public API design can be directly applied to interfaces you want to keep secret. Of course, building the management and security capabilities required to expose the API to your trusted parties can be daunting but that is why a great API management portal and gateway combination can save the day.

 

September 17th, 2012

Web APIs are International

APIs are GlobalI had the great fortune of spending last week in India, helping a Layer 7 customer develop a Web API program from scratch. While it’s always exciting to walk into a greenfield situation and build something new, I was doubly excited to be doing this in India, where the concept of open APIs is still fairly new.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen explosive growth in open APIs across North America, lead of course by the avant garde Internet companies on the West Coast. The API Management industry has focused much of its attention on the US market but the Web API movement has definitely made its way to other markets and the push towards mobile and device-based applications is clearly having an influence on enterprise architectures.

Western Europe has had a strong influence on the API scene, with notable government and enterprise organizations diving wholeheartedly into the collaborative, developer-focused open API space. London, in particular, has developed a thriving technology scene with tons of hackathons, codeathons, meetups and start-up companies trying to change the world or at least get rich trying.

At the moment, the open API scene in India is still in its infancy and I’m looking forward to helping the concept blossom in whatever way that I can. As you may be aware, the number of mobile devices being used in India is mind-boggling and the ratio of mobile-use-to-desktop-computing is much higher than in North America or Western Europe.  This quantity of mobile client platforms, combined with the large number of motivated developers on the scene, makes this a very intriguing open API marketplace. I can’t disclose any details on the nature of the project yet… but I’m hoping to to have exciting news to share in the near future, so stay tuned.

I’ve spent most of the summer in North America, for a variety of reasons and I’m excited that I will finally be getting back home to the UK so I can re-engage with the European API and mobile scene. We have some great Layer 7 API workshops scheduled across Europe over the next few months and hopefully we will uncover a few new and noteworthy European API publishers while we are on tour.

July 12th, 2012

Are Open APIs Too Open for Big Business?

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Twitter and Facebook APIsI’ll admit it.. I’m a “big enterprise” guy.  I’ve either worked for or worked with very large enterprise organizations for most of my career and I’ve seen these companies struggle with the challenge of  incorporating ideas that are spawned from the collective brain trust of the theorists, coders and entrepreneurs that exist in the chaos outside the enterprise’s doors.

It took time and some adaptation for concepts like open source software, social media integration and viral marketing to become part of the enterprise world and I believe that opening up Web APIs will require a similar shift in mindset to work on the enterprise stage. The biggest ships take the longest to turn but modern businesses (even the most risk-averse) must be open to leveraging new technologies and architectural philosophies in order to avoid being left behind.

The buzz around Web APIs has definitely piqued the interest of big business and large enterprises have dipped their toes into its waters with the release of a few compelling APIs over the last year.  But, along with the excitement generated from opening new consumer channels and new avenues for innovation, there is still a  prevailing sense of danger associated with the API movement.

For many enterprises,  there is a fear that publishing APIs means giving up control of their services and data to an army of anonymous 16 year-old mobile developers. After all, who wants their carefully crafted brands and products to end up at the mercy of the masses? We’ve seen marketing experiments with “crowd sourcing” produce some interesting results in the past, so there is reason to be cautious when opening up the doors for collaboration in any form.

Of course, the good news is that the challenge of controlling APIs can be elegantly addressed with a strong API Management system. At Layer 7, our SecureSpan API Proxy gives enterprise customers the tools they need to maintain control over how content and services are used, allowing publishers to lock down APIs as much as they want.

However, publishers will also need to ensure that they provide enough accessibility to their API libraries or they will run the risk of exposing wonderful APIs that sit unused, waiting for developers to utilize them. APIs are only useful when they are used and a closed-door policy will not encourage anyone to sign up. That’s why we also offer the Layer API Portal, which is designed to facilitate developer community outreach and secure developer onboarding.

Making APIs attractive to the developer community is the key to increasing usage and it is becoming clear that developers want stability and control in the APIs they use. For example, Twitter’s continued restrictions on API usage and Facebook’s closure of the face.com face recognition API have created a small wave of backlash amongst their developer communities. While it’s not enough of a storm to make much of a dent in the uptake of Twitter or Facebook APIs,  application developers are realizing that building their apps based on APIs from which they may lose access is ultimately a losing proposition.

This is good news for larger enterprises as it signals a growing level of maturity in the API market and the need for stable, fairly-priced APIs that can support apps in the longer term. A set of well-designed, secure APIs with a well thought out revenue model is exactly the right fit for the large enterprise world.

So, are open APIs too open for enterprises? Probably. But enterprises will need to adapt or risk being unable to reach their customers as the device revolution continues at its explosive pace. Conversely, launching a poorly-designed API library just to get it out there can be an equally devastating misstep. Organizations need to think carefully and plan their API strategies in order to find the perfect balance between control and accessibility.

It isn’t easy for enterprises to embrace open APIs but when the risks are managed properly with a well-built API Gateway, developer portal and API strategy, the rewards can be immense.

July 6th, 2012

OpenID Connect: Live Tech Talk July 10 9am PDT

OpenID ConnectOur Tech Talks strive to focus on the most interesting and relevant API Management topics for both developers and publishers. And as new and evolving protocols emerge, we want to provide a forum for developers and publishers alike to discuss these protocols in an open discussion forum. So with that in mind, our next Tech Talk will focus on OpenID Connect.

OpenID Connect is an emerging standard that adds federated authentication to OAuth 2.0-enabled systems. It’s a suite of lightweight specifications that provide a framework for identity interactions via RESTful APIs. And in its simplest deployment, OpenID Connect allows all types of clients including browser-based, mobile and javascript to request and receive information about identities and currently authenticated sessions.

So, it’s a relatively simple protocol that helps make authenticating complicated scenarios easier. And let’s be honest – simple and easy are always welcome when it comes to securing RESTful APIs. Authorization and authentication are now available using only one technology. This makes life easier for anyone looking to secure their APIs.

But of course, questions always arise when discussing the various implementation scenarios for OpenID Connect. That’s why we’re excited to welcome Senior Software Developer Sascha Preibisch as our special guest for our July 10 Tech Talk Tuesday. He will answer any OpenID Connect questions you may have – so get those questions ready and join us on July 10 at 9am PDT.

Here’s how to join the discussion:

Click here to get a reminder in your calendar.

On the day of the event, join on Livestream or Facebook:
»  livestream.com/layer7live
»  facebook.com/layer7

Tuesday, July 10 | 9am PDT | 12pm EDT | 5pm BST

Submit your questions:
Tweet using the tag #Layer7Live
Email techtalk@layer7.com
Check in & Chat through Facebook

June 11th, 2012

API Analytics Tech Talk Tuesday

API AnalyticsGet your API analytics questions ready! Tech Talk is coming up tomorrow, Tuesday June 12 – it’s live it’s interactive and CTO Scott Morrison will be our guest. Tweet questions to #layer7live.

Add it to your calendar

If you publish an API, you need a way to measure and understand how that API functions. You need a way to manage it. You need a way to measure it. APIs are becoming an essential part of the Internet and more enterprises are opening up their APIs to third-party developers.

Of course, API security is always a concern but if you publish an API, you also need to measure how it functions – what metrics are you concerned with? Are there any API errors my application is seeing? How does my API usually perform and is that changing? Is it slowing down or are there latency issues caused by using a proxy?

Key metrics API publishers need to consider include: errors, performance, availability, latency and response time. And with the Layer 7 API Portal, these metrics can be graphed and filtered by user, developer and API.

So be sure to join us tomorrow at 9am PDT when Layer 7 CTO Scott Morrison will take live questions from the stream. It’s a great chance to have your API analytics questions answered.

How to Attend:

Just visit the Layer 7 Facebook page at 9am PDT on June 12 and click the Livestream icon.

Don’t have Facebook? Simply click here to watch directly through Livestream.

How to Submit Questions:

On Facebook

•    Click on the Livestream PLAY button to join the stream
•    Click the red “Check in & Chat” button to submit questions

On Twitter
•    Tweet questions with the hashtag #layer7live