The Deployment Architecture of an Enterprise API Management Platform..

We discussed the emergence of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) as providing a key business capability in Digital Platforms @ http://www.vamsitalkstech.com/?p=3834. The next post then discussed the foundational technology, integration & governance capabilities that any Enterprise API Platform must support @ http://www.vamsitalkstech.com/?p=5102.  This final post in the API series will discuss a deployment model for an API Management Platform.

Background..

The first two posts in this series discussed the business background to API Management and the need for an Enterprise API Strategy. While details will vary across vendor platforms, the intention of this post is to discuss key runtime components of an API management platform and the overall developer workflow in creating APIs & runtime workflow to that enables client applications to access them.

Architectural Components of an API Management Platform..

The important runtime components of an API management platform are depicted in the below illustration. Note that we have abstracted out network components (firewalls, reverse proxies, VLANs, switches etc) as well as the internal details of application architecture which would normally be impacted by an API Platform.

The major components of an API Management Platform and the request flow across the architecture.

Let us cover the core components of the above:

  1. API Gateway -The API Gateway has emerged as the dominant deployment artifact in API Architectures. As the name suggests Gateways are based on a facade design pattern. The Gateway (or typically a set of highly available Gateways) acts as a proxy to traffic between client applications (used by customers, partners and employees) and back end services (ranging from mainframes to microservices). The Gateway is essentially an appliance or a software process that abstracts all API traffic into an organization and exposes business capabilities typically via a REST interface. Clients are exposed different views of the same API – coarse grained or granular – depending on the kind of client application (thick/thin) and access control permissions.  Gateways include protocol translation and request routing as their core functionality. It is also not uncommon to deploy multiple Gateways – in an internal and external fashion – depending on business requirements in terms of partner interactions etc. Gateways also include functionality such as caching requests for performance, load balancing, authentication, serving static content etc. The API Gateway can thus be managed using a set of policy controls. Performance characteristics such as throughput, scalability, caching, load balancing and failover are managed using a cluster of API Gateways.  The introduction of an API Gateway also ensures that application design is impacted going forward. API Gateways can be implemented in many forms – as a software platform or as an appliance. Public cloud providers have also begun offering mature API Gateways that integrate well with a range of backend services that they provide both from an IaaS and a PaaS standpoint. For instance, Amazon’s API Gateway integrates natively with AWS Lambda and EC2 Container Service for microservice deployments on AWS.
  2. Security -Though it is not a standalone runtime artifact, Security ends to be called out as one of the most important logical requirements of an API Management platform. APIs have to follow the same access control mechanisms, security constrains for different user roles etc as their underlying datasources. This is key as backend applications and organizational data need to be protected from a variety of targets – denial of service attacks, malware, access control violations etc. Accordingly, policy based protection using API keys, JSON/XML signature scanning & threat protection, encryption for Data in motion and at rest, OAuth support etc – all need to be provided as standard features.
  3. Developer portal -A Developer portal is the entry point for developers and can also serve as a developer onboarding tool. Thus, typically it is a web based portal integrated with the API Gateway. Developers use the portal to study API specs, download SDKs for different programming languages, register their APIs and to monitor their API performance. It also provides a visual interface to help developers build/test their APIs and also provides support for a high degree of automation using a continuous delivery model. For internal developers, the ability to provide self service consumption of API developer stacks (Node.js/ JavaScript frameworks/Java runtimes/ PaaS integration etc) is a highly desirable capability.
  4. Management and Monitoring -Ensuring that the exposed APIs are maintaining their QOS (Quality of Service) as helping admins monitor their quota of resource consumption is key from a Operations standpoint. Further, the M&M functionality should also aid operators in resolving complex systems issues and ensuring a high degree of availability during upgrades etc.
  5. Billing and Chargeback -Here we refer to the ability to tie in the usage of APIs to back office applications that can charge users based on their metered usage of the backend applications. This is typically provided through logging and auditing capability.
  6. Governance -From a Governance standpoint, the ability to track APIs across their lifecycle,  a handy catalog of available APIs, an ability to audit their usage and the underlying assets they expose and the ability for business to set policies on their usage etc.

API Design Process..

Most API Platforms provide a developer toolkit with varying degrees of integration with a runtime platform. Handy SKDs for iOS, Android and Javascript development are provided.

An internal developer uses the developer toolkit (e.g. Eclipse with an offline plugin) and/or an API Designer tool included with a vendor platform to create the API based on organizational policies. Extensive CLI (Command Line Interface) is also provided to perform all functions which can be done using the GUI. These include, local unit & system test capabilities and an ability to publish the tested APIs to a repository from where the runtime can access, deploy and update the APIs.

From a data standpoint, multiple databases including RDBMS, NoSQL are supported for data access. During the creation of the API, depending on whether the developer already has an existing data model in mind, the business logic is mapped closely with the data schema, or, one can also work top down to create the backend once the API interface has been defined using a model driven approach. These also include settings for security permissions with support for OAuth and any other third party authentication dependencies.

Once defined and tested, the API is published onto the runtime. During this process access control privileges, access policies and the endpoint itself are defined. The API is then ready for external consumption and discovery.

Runtime Flow Across the Architecture..

In the simplest case – once the API has been deployed and tested it is made available for public discovery and consumption. Client Applications then begin to leverage the API and this can be done in a variety of ways. For example – user interactions on mobile applications, webpages and B2B services trigger calls to the API Gateway. The Gateway performs a range of functions to process the request – from security authorization to load-balancing before accessing policies setup for that particular API. The Gateway then invokes the API by calling the backend system typically via message oriented middleware such as an ESB or a Message Broker. Once the backend responds with the appropriate payload ,the data is sent to the requesting application. Systems and Administration teams can view detailed operational metrics and logs to monitor API performance.

A Note on Security..

It should come as no surprise that the security aspect of an API Management Platform is one of the most critical aspects of the implementation. While API Security is a good subject for a followup post and too exhaustive to be covered in a short blurb – several standards such as OAuth2, OpenID Connect, JSON Security & Policy languages are all topics that need to be explored by both organizational developers and administrators.  Extensive flow mapping and scenario testing are mandated here. Also, endpoint security from a client application standpoint is key. Your Servers, Desktops, Supported Mobile devices need to be updated and secured with the latest antivirus & other standard IT Security/access control policies.

Conclusion..

In this post, we tried to highlight the major components of an API Management Platform from a technology standpoint. While there are a range of commercial & open source platforms, it is important to evaluate them from a feature standpoint as well as from an ecosystem capability perspective as developers began implementing microservices based Digital Architectures.

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