The Rise of APIs
In the last decade, there has been an explosion of innovative service-oriented applications across all computing platforms, from the cloud to the web to mobile devices. APIs are driving this shift in the modern technology marketplace because they eliminate the most challenging barriers to experimentation and positive change in the tech industry.
In the past, large companies with established systems and wide, entrenched reach in terms of customers and infrastructure faced considerable difficulty in making large-scale changes and adding new features. The ship they were steering was too big to be nimble.
Meanwhile, start-ups were small and savvy enough to innovate but either lacked the resources to scale or faced tremendous barriers to earning enough of a market share to be profitable. APIs drive digital transformation and innovation by acting as a literal bridge between applications and businesses by simplifying integrations that would have been inconceivable in the past.
What is an API?
An API, or Application Programming Interface, is a piece of software that allows two applications to exchange information without either side needing to understand the inner workings of the other. Anyone who has worked in systems integration even as recently as the 2000s knows how powerful those words are. In modern computing, the term API carries additional implications:
1.Developers build APIs to communicate using integration-friendly standards like HTTP, REST, and SOAP.
2.Developers should build APIs to last with minimal changes. They work best as reliable interfaces that systems can depend on for many years.
3.Most critically, organizations must monitor APIs for security, performance, and scalability.
Booking a trip through third-party applications like Expedia or Kayak is an example of the power of APIs. A single application handles choosing an airline, flight, seat number, hotel rooms, rental cars, and more. There is a seamless experience purchasing services from different companies whose systems do not exchange information directly.
API monitoring is the practice of observing APIs in production to ensure performance, availability, and data exchange correctness. When APIs fail, it often means that a business’s most critical, time-sensitive applications fail as well. And even if an API doesn’t fail outright, performance degradations or worse, data anomalies can wreak havoc on the user experience and even essential system functions. For this reason, monitoring APIs is just as crucial as monitoring critical servers and infrastructure.
How are APIs Monitored?
The first step is consistently identifying the APIs that an organization or business relies on the most. Some are internal to systems and used to exchange data between atomic services (like microservice architecture). Others are externally facing and designed to expose data to the public. Another common use case is to connect an organization’s systems with those of an external partner.
Once the business identifies its critical APIs, it can select a monitoring solution or strategy that suits its systems. From a birds-eye view, there are two standard methods of monitoring APIs:
1. Single call API monitoring is a fundamental request/receive method to ensure an available API and assess a call’s response time.
2. Multi-step API monitoring uses multiple calls to more robustly assess performance metrics, evaluate proper authentication and functional considerations like data format and correctness.
What to look for in an API monitoring solution
API monitoring gives development, operations, and business teams the information they need to maintain and continuously improve the user experience. Here are a few essential characteristics that ensure an API monitoring solution will deliver value to the applications and services that businesses depend on:
1. Usability: Operations teams are often the most overburdened group in any organization. These folks usually don’t have the time to use tools that are difficult to understand. Even if they make an effort, they won’t take full advantage of the capabilities it has to offer unless it is user-friendly and easy to learn.
2. Flexibility: Modern software is composed of a complex mix of components. An API monitoring tool must derive practical, actionable information from across all the critical APIs an organization uses.
3. Consumability: Data generated by an API monitoring tool must be consumable by human operators and systems configured for an automated response. Data should be aggregated and visualized, preferably with actionable insights to reduce resolution times when problems occur.
4. Adaptability: Software teams shouldn’t have to design their software to take advantage of monitoring tools and business units shouldn’t have to modify their workflows. A monitoring tool should easily integrate into the current workflows and business cases the software is supporting. Ideally, it should also interface with the tools that Dev Ops teams are already using across the software stack.
5. Intelligence: A tool with robust machine learning capability can greatly enhance its efficacy when dealing with system and business specific behaviors. Examples include accurate learning of seasonality in user behavior, and the ability to predict peak times and downtimes to optimize performance and architecture decisions.
6. Alerts: An abundance of false positives generated by a monitoring solution can have highly negative impacts to the team’s ability to manage and optimize software systems. Choose a monitoring tool optimized to provide contextualized alerts with virtually no false positives.
API Monitoring is Essential
With APIs playing a critical role in digital transformation and innovation, organizations must maintain visibility into their availability, proper function, and performance at all times. That’s why organizations need to implement an API monitoring strategy that covers endpoints and availability and includes performance and data exchange correctness. API-centric software architecture paradigms will only become more ubiquitous. API monitoring tools will provide the most comprehensive window into the performance and function of a businesses’ most critical applications.
Organizations looking to take advantage of the API’s power to drive innovation must select the correct API monitoring solution. For an API monitoring tool to deliver value, it must integrate seamlessly with the tools developers and operators already know. It should also minimize false positives and possess the capability to recognize and respond to user behavioral patterns. Solutions with these characteristics can deliver immediate value while not overburdening operators and developers.