Creating value for your network in the API economy
Today, we are living in an application programming interface (API) economy. Just look around you and you'll see major success stories such as Uber, whose entire business model is built on leveraging Google Maps through an API to match drivers up with passengers seeking a ride.
According to Kristin R Moyer, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, "The API economy is an enabler for turning a business or organisation into a platform. Platforms multiply value creation because they enable business ecosystems inside and outside of the enterprise to consummate matches among users and facilitate the creation and/or exchange of goods, services and social currency so that all participants are able to capture value."
This is particularly true in the underbelly of the data centre, in the network.
"It may not be exciting to most folk when a major infrastructure vendor offers an API, but to those who have operational responsibility for ‘the network' it's music to their ears," continues Lorie MacVittie, principal technical evangelist at F5 Networks, a solutions provider for an application world. "This growing, ‘other' API economy is important not just because it means automation and orchestration can move forward with greater alacrity and probability of success. That's one benefit, but it's not the only one."
Connecting the untethered employee
She explains that infrastructure APIs are the means by which organisations are afforded the freedom to choose their own path toward that more automated and efficient data centre. Without them, she says, organisations would be forced to choose from among those options that provide pre-existing integration between solutions at the vendors' whim.
"That's the way it used to be in the network, where strategic partnerships meant integration into network management systems, app monitoring toolsets, and ultimately, with each other," she adds. "Customer input regarding which vendors should support each other was solicited and factored in, of course, but market dynamics were just as weighted in the equation that decided who would be integrated with whom."
APIs change that dynamic. The nature of APIs today is such that as long as the infrastructure is API-enabled, it can be almost certainly be integrated with whatever toolset, framework, or system is being utilised. "De facto industry standardisation on HTTP REST and (typically) JSON as a payload have dramatically expanded the other API economy to ensure that, generally speaking, you can automate and orchestration and integrate just about anything."
In F5's "State of Application Delivery" in 2017 survey, participants were asked their view on how important it was that their infrastructure be API-enabled. An overwhelming 56% said it was more or very important, while another 32% said it was somewhat important. "Only 12% shrugged and said it really wasn't that important to them. In 2016 when we asked the same question, only 31% said API-enabled infrastructure was more or very important. Those who said it wasn't was nearly double that of this year, with 23% in 2016 saying APIs on infrastructure just wasn't that big of a deal.
"That's an astounding change in direction, and indicative of the growing importance of DevOps as a tactical if not strategic response to scaling operations in modern environments," points out MacVittie.
With a significant percentage of organisations planning on investing in private cloud in 2017, this attitude toward the other API economy should be unsurprising. The abstraction of infrastructure and network services required to implement a truly automated and orchestrated cloud-like environment necessitates API-enabled everything. "Even if it were not the driving factor behind the changing perspective on API-enabled infrastructure, the growth in apps requiring even the most basic of network services (firewall, load balancing, DNS) demands a change in the way data centres provision, scale, and manage the devices that provide those services. That means automation and orchestration. Because throwing more people at the problem does not actually improve operational efficiency or throughput. Automation and orchestration, on the other hand, does," says MacVittie.
She concludes that the other API economy is incredibly important in that it is affording organisations the freedom to mix and match and build a world-class architecture and empowering the enterprises experiencing growth to efficiently scale operations through automation and orchestration.
"As much as we like to point out that organisations are undergoing a digital transformation with respect to the way in which they interact and service their customers, it's also happening in the data centre, where traditional operations are being digitally transformed by APIs, templates, and algorithms," she says.
"For our African customers, the API economy and its successes illustrate how important it is to deploy a flexible solution that both allows for the future needs and growth of a business in order to enable a superior customer experience," adds Anton Jacobsz, managing director at Networks Unlimited, an authorised value-added distributer of F5 products throughout Africa.
"It is for this reason that we placing a dedicated focus on F5's BIG-IP platform, a smart evolution of Application Delivery Controller (ADC) technology. Solutions built on this platform are load balancers. And, they're full proxies that give visibility into, and the power to control – inspect and encrypt or decrypt – all the traffic that passes through your network," he says.