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API Gateway and API Portal - The pillars of API Management and the evolution of SOA

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API Gateway and API Portal - The pillars of API Management and the evolution of SOA

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API Management solutions must combine an API Portal (for signing up developers) with an API Gateway (to link back to the enterprise). But where do these come from, and what is the relationship with SOA? To answer these questions, first let's look at a bit of history:

In the 2000's, we had the SOA Gateway and the SOA Registry, working hand-in-hand. This was "SOA Governance". The SOA Registry (with a Repository) was intended to be the "central store of truth" for information about Web Services. It was often the public face of SOA Governance, the part which people could see. Usually the services in the registry took the form of heavyweight SOAP services, defined by WSDLs. The problem was that developers were often forced to register their SOAP services in the registry, rather than feeling that it was something beneficial to them. Browsing the registry was also a chore, involving the use of UDDI, also a heavyweight protocol (in fact, it was built on SOAP).

Fast-forward to the current decade, and we find that the SOA Registry has been replaced by the API Portal. An API portal is also the "central store of truth", but now it includes REST APIs definitions (usually expressed using a Swagger-type format) as well as SOAP services.

The API Portal is designed to be useful and helpful to developers who wish to build apps, rather than feeling like a chore to use. The lesson of SOA was that an attitude of "If we build it, they will come" (or "If we put it in the SOA Registry, people will use it") does not work. You have to make it into a pleasant experience for developers. API portals work for the very reason that SOA registries did not work: usability.

Just like the SOA Gateway worked with the SOA Registry, so the API Gateway works hand-in-hand with the API Portal. Together, the combination of the API Portal with the API Gateway constitutes "API Management". The API Portal is for developers to sign up to use APIs, receive API Keys and quotas, and the API Gateway operates at runtime, managing the API Key usage and enforcing the API usage quotas. The API Gateway also performs the very important task of bridging from the technologies used by API clients (REST, OAuth) to the technologies used in the enterprise (Kerberos, SAML, or proprietary identity tokens such as CA SiteMinder smsession tokens). For more on this bridging, check out my webinar with Jason Cardinal from Identica tomorrow on "Bridging APIs to Enterprise Infrastructure".

Gartner defines the combination of SOA Governance and API Management as "Application Services Governance". I'm proud to say that Axway (which acquired Vordel in 2012) is recognized by Gartner as a Leader in the category of Application Services Governance.

We've seen an evolution of technologies (SOAP to REST) and approach (the UDDI registry to the web-based API Portal) in the journey from SOA Governance to API Management. From 30,000 feet, SOA Governance and API Management might look similar, but the new approach of API Management has already outshone SOA. The API Gateway and API Portal are key to this.

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