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As 2011 comes to an end, I’d like to take another look at what I learned about the API management service provider space in 2011. I started the year engaging 3Scale, Apigee and Mashery, trying to find a platform to build the Mimeo Connect API platform on. Then spent the entire year getting to know each of the API management service providers, and the products they offer. At the end of the year, we are discussing the relevancy of API service providers, so I think a year-end API service provider post is due.

The First Dimension
To make sense of the API management space, I’m looking at it in five separate dimensions. As of December 2011, I would set the first dimension and primary API management playing field as:

These companies are going to provide a gateway, proxy or a connector for your APIs either on-premise or in the cloud.

Then through that gateway, proxy, connector they will offer a variety of services to secure, translate, throttle, cache, distribute and scale your APIs as you need.

Some of these companies will also provide you with a way to manage usage, billing, reporting and legal for the users, partners and developers who will be consuming your API.

These companies will also bring a whole bunch of expertise to the table, that your company can tap while building your API strategy. Some will even help you market your API to developers online and at events.

One thing to know about these API management service providers is, well...they are API management service providers. To my knowledge they don’t actually deploy your API for you, they help you build a strategy, and manage the API. But you still need to rely on other tools and in-house resources to deliver your API.

A common Google search or in-person query I get is: Apigee vs. Mashery, 3Scale vs. Apigee and Layer7 vs. Apigee, etc 

After all my research, and talking to all the API management service providers--I don’t have a straight answer. My response is...visit each of their sites, choose the ones that speak to you, and call them. They each have a unique style to API management, and its healthy to get acquainted with each of their approaches, and find one that fits your companies objectives.

The Second Dimension
Beyond the primary players I’d say there are a group of data driven API service providers that bring a different set of tools and expertise:

Data API management platforms are focusing on bringing data to life as APIs. These companies are either acquiring their own data-sets to deliver as APIs, doing it as a service for companies or providing you with tools to do it yourself. Whatever the scenario is, its about building access and delivery networks, for data, using APIs.

The Third Dimension
There is also a wave of new breed API management platforms, each with a slightly different vision of where the space should go:

These new players are bringing community and social to API management, along with new ways to describe, test, manage and share APIs. This new wave has a chance to change the conversation around APIs dramatically in 2012.

The Fourth Dimension
Beyond these companies directly offering API management services, there is always the bootstrap model. Wordpress, Github, Google Groups, Twitter and some custom coding on an Amazon EC2 instance can make for a pretty fine API and supporting area.

I’ve identified a whole range of API building blocks on API Evangelist, and I’m always working to define tools that the DIY API owner can use to deploy and manage their API. This is where you’ll find the frameworks you’ll need to deploy an API, forum, blog, code samples, repositories, etc.

However there are some key building blocks missing in this approach. There are no clear tools for API key management, rate limiting, translation, transformation, metrics, billing, reporting, and other areas that API management service providers are capitalizing on. On the road to the commodization of certain API management services, we need some more open-source players to jump in the game. Or maybe some existing player could open-source their tools?

The Fifth Dimension
So we have the primary, data and next wave of API management service providers as well as the DIY approach to API management. I’d have to say there is a fifth dimension of this space, and that’s Google.

Much like Amazon has done with EC2, S3 and RDS, Google is in a great position to lead the industry by example, with their standardized approach to Google API delivery and management with Google Console, Google Discovery, Google Explorer and Google Analytics.

In my post, the Business of Google APIs 2011, I introduce the idea of Google opening up its API management platform to other API owners. My thought is, that Google is in a good position to open up API management infrastructure via the Google Apps Platform, allowing any company to easily deploy an API and enable discover, exploration and management via the tools Google rolled out in 2011 for its own APIs.

In my opinion each of the five API management dimensions I’ve laid out will have significant roles they could play in 2012:

  • First Dimension - The primary API management players will fuel growth of API adoption in 2012 from the small business to the enterprise.
  • Second Dimension - Data API management providers will ensure the massive amounts of data we have, and are creating daily will be accessible, have delivery networks and marketplaces using APIs.
  • Third Dimension - A new wave of social, agile and community driven approaches to API management whill change the game and create entirely new ways to deploy, deliver, manage and consume what we know as APIs.
  • Fourth Dimension - DIY API management will fuel growth and innovation in the space, but without the entry of more open-source API building block players the whole industry will suffer.
  • Fifth Dimension - Google posses all the tools for deploying, discovering, exploring, managing and consuming APIs, will they share with the world, or keep it for themselves?

I may actually throw in a Sixth Dimension for the API management space in 2012, Content APIs. This is based on what I’ve seen in the space around deployment of Content APIs for Worpdress, Drupal and other CMS platforms. Essentially turning every site into an API.

Any of these six dimensions of API management could change the API conversation in 2012. The only thing I can predict 100%, is 2012 is definitely going to be a fun ride, based upon what i’ve seen in 2011--we are poised for some serious growth.




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