There has been an interesting ongoing discussion about how open APIs are becoming the new open source. Jay Lyman from 451 wrote an article published in TechNewsWorld in which he describes this phenomenon:
“There was a time 10 years ago or so when open source was “good enough” — that is, it served as a viable, often lower-cost, lower-hassle alternative to the proprietary software of the day. Today, all software is generally more open, and I believe we’ve reached a point when non-open source software is often “open enough.” The prime examples are cloud APIs from Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), which are neither open source nor open standards, necessarily, but are readily and widely available and tend to serve as the de facto standards of the day, including for open source plays on top, such as Eucalyptus. The fact is, Amazon Web Services APIs are open enough to facilitate the creation of integrations, connections and services despite the fact the underlying code is not open source.”
Although this is a compelling idea, I don’t fully agree that open source is being overtaken by open APIs. I think instead what is happening is that three converging technology trends are producing a new approach to deploying applications:
- SOA – at the foundation of all of this is SOA. Creating discrete, loosely coupled functions that are callable as a service is a pre-requisite to any of this working. The original promise of SOA included the concept of composite applications, which would dynamically string together best of breed functionality from across the IT landscape. As SOA has evolved to lighter, more open approaches like JSON and REST, the feasibility of this vision has improved dramatically.
- Cloud – if SOA was the foundation, the tipping point for change came in the form of Cloud. SaaS applications have absolutely disrupted the packaged application marketplace. Applications like Salesforce.com, Workday, and SugarCRM have compelled organizations to rethink their application strategy and extend their application base beyond their four walls. Since many of these SaaS applications were service-oriented and open api-oriented from day one, they really started the revolution. The SaaS-inspired shift to a best of breed approach for applications has opened up new possibilities for a variety of companies to offer their niche capabilities as open services.
- Social – with SOA as the foundation and Cloud as the tipping point, Social technology has acted as a catalyst. One of the primary use cases that has driven organizations to adopt this approach faster has been the desire to take advantage of social technology. Open API connections to things like Facebook and Twitter provide many new marketing and customer outreach opportunities. Salesforce.com has essentially rebranded what they offer as “Social Enterprise in the Cloud” to reinforce this connection.
So the net result of all of this has been that organizations have increasingly sought to build new applications on top of open APIs rather than building something from scratch using traditional on-premise technology installs. This, in turn, has opened an ecosystem of new opportunities where companies new and old can create new revenue streams or reach new customers by publishing niche services that can be hooked into these new applications. For example, Pitney Bowes, a company primarily known for postal metering, now publishes services for shipping and tracking that are becoming de facto standards for many of these new style of applications.
So this is an exciting new trend, but I don’t see it completely displacing on-premise systems anytime soon – open source or otherwise. There is a class of applications for which this approach is well-suited, but there are still things that will continue to run on-site in most organizations. That said, this class of applications has expanded rapidly since the inception of Cloud, but it is still not a complete replacement for on-premise systems.
What I am already seeing is that many of these on-premise systems are beginning to be extended to leverage external open APIs, often within the context of overlay business processes. You could surmise that is the beginning of the sea change that is likely to continue to come.