The ancient art of API Management

I had a good discussion with a company today who has been talking to one of our competitors about API Management. A member of their team asked me what advantages IBM’s offering has over competitors, particularly since the API Management offering was only just announced a few weeks ago.

I think it is a great question, so I want to address it here for everyone’s benefit. I think it really comes down to four key points:

  1. In actuality, IBM has been helping organizations publish services and APIs securely using DataPower for years. In fact, organizations like Pitney Bowes and Royal Caribbean just spoke at the Impact conference in Las Vegas about the success they are having in this area. What is new within the portfolio is the developer portal, API assembly, and business API Insight. The harder parts of API management (security, policy management, traffic management, etc.) have been available in DataPower for a long time.
  2. That said, there are some strong technological advantages in the IBM offering. First of all, the DataPower appliance at the core of the offering is by far the market leading security gateway. DataPower has roughly ten times the customer base of the nearest competitor, and is growing faster. The most security conscious organizations in the world use DataPower to protect the services and APIs that they publish externally. Within the API Management solution, IBM also has a unique ability to easily assemble and publish new APIs through a simple configuration interface. This allows organizations to take internal resources and publish them as secure APIs in a few clicks. Also, the solution employs big data analytics to provide a higher level of insight into API consumption. And perhaps most importantly, IBM brings a level of scale to API Management that none of the other vendors can match. By tapping into IBM developerWorks, IBM can offer access to millions of developers around the world.
  3. Beyond this, IBM’s vision in this space is much broader. Publishing business APIs requires the same level of infrastructure and rigor as other applications, and shares a lot of technology basis with initiatives like mobile computing.  IBM’s portfolio is particularly well-suited to the requirements that this creates. Experience with technologies where IBM already has a market leadership position, like service registry for lifecycle management, in-memory caching, mobile application support, and even network traffic shaping, all fit into this vision in the long term, and can quickly provide capabilities well beyond what smaller vendors are able to offer with limited development teams and budgets.
  4. IBM’s development team is several times larger than other API Management competitors, and the network of field experts within IBM and its partners is also many times larger. IBM’s reach around the globe is far beyond what a small startup can offer. And layered on top of that IBM has extensive expertise across industries and technology platforms that exceeds the capacity of smaller companies. If your organization views API Management as a critical strategy, as IBM does, then risk mitigation and scale should be top concerns.

Now none of this is to say that the other API Management vendors lack good technology. I actually really like several of the players in this space, and in fact I have some good friends that work in a couple of them. I just think that API Management is really at an early phase of its lifecycle, so choosing a vendor that understands the challenges and will also be there for the long haul is extremely important.

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