September 18th, 2012

Dispatches from Rome
History Repeats: The Search for Agility & Reuse Through APIs

SDP Global Summit RomeRome has seen its share of history. Therefore it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to hear telco after telco at last week’s SDP Global Summit echo the decade-old SOA mantra of abstraction, agility and reuse when talking about their new API initiatives. If they’d added a mention or two of loose coupling, the transportation back in time would have been complete.

On the surface, there’s no inconsistency between talking API and talking SOA: “API” usually denotes an implementation style; “SOA” an architectural approach to integration. A decade ago, SOAP and WS* formed an ideal implementation of SOA – or so thought the committees that drafted the supporting specifications behind what became known as Web services.

Like all well-intentioned products of committee, Web services represented an act of compromise, accommodating many competing interests. But their complexity became self-limiting and so Web APIs, with their familiar Web-like approach to handling machine-to-machine interactions, have become the latest hope for practical SOA among enterprises and telco carriers.

For carriers, the race to APIfication has a special urgency. With the explosion of apps running on smart phones, smart TVs and smart everything, the carrier is often relegated to providing a pipe and subsidizing devices. APIs give them hope by allowing them to expose their various assets as programmatic interfaces that can be leveraged by internal and external app developers.

This empowers carriers to stay competitive and relevant by giving them the ability to deliver software and services into the marketplace faster. APIs also allow carriers to adapt and react to failure more efficiently. If one idea doesn’t work, a telco can quickly retool and offer a new set of services that may have more appeal.

But if Web APIs are to deliver on the SOA vision of agility and reuse, they will need some of the same plumbing that made Web services work. Specifically, SOA Gateways were essential in making Web services practical. They provided a controlled, simple and economical way to connect services, regardless of differences in implementation.

Similarly, for APIs to be successful in the carrier market, telcos will need to implement API-ready SOA Gateways – or “API Gateways” – that can offload all the abstraction, adaptation, orchestration, security, SLA and identity brokering from the API logic. As with SOA, governance belongs not in the API but in an intermediary that mediates interactions with other applications. History repeats.

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