Picture Credit: <a href='http://lonewolflibrarian.wordpress.com/'>http://lonewolflibrarian.wordpress.com/</a>This is my fifth post in the series titled “PaaS Is The Future Of Cloud Services” and I am going to briefly discuss one of the key elements of this PaaS-y future, the APIs. Even though having an API doesn’t make something a platform, APIs are key to the very success of the Platform Services. The successful Platform Services players of the future will be the ones who got their API strategy right. This is the reason I called APIs the oxygen for the PaaS-y future in a recent post about Apigee-Heroku announcement. In this post, I will briefly discuss the role played by APIs in the Platform Services and highlight some of the issues to be considered while developing APIs for platform. Please note that this is by no means exhaustive and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section below.

The Role played by APIs

In any platform, APIs

  • greatly simplify the life of developers by making it easy to access the functionality of the platform. Instead of developing everything from the scratch, they could tap the APIs and access the functionality easily
  • speeds up the platform access
  • makes the platform highly extensible leading to a rich feature set
  • helps co-opt with other service providers
  • helps in integration and interoperability
  • helps in better management of platform security
  • offers an easy option to handle analytics
  • even helps in ensuring compliance

etc.. If a platform provider ignore the importance of APIs, they will go down very fast. Even the tech giant Google learnt it in a hard way. They launched Google Buzz and Google Latitude with much fanfare but they didn’t release the API for these services. This resulted in lack of interest among the developers and, hence, failed to gain traction among the users. Clearly, even if you are the hottest web company in the world, if you don’t release the APIs for your platform, you will fail. It is going to become even more pronounced as we march towards the PaaS-y future. For example, more than 50% of the workload carried by salesforce.com systems arrives through their API, rather than coming in through the UI of one of the applications hosted on their platform. This was the case before they released Chatter and it is only going to increase in the future. As we enter a future dominated by platform services, concerns about vendor lock-in are only going to get louder and louder. In order to remove the concerns about possible vendor lock-in, platform services providers will be expected to be interoperable with competing platforms and support data portability. APIs are going to be critical in ensuring interoperability and data portability. In other words, APIs are going to be the oxygen for the much anticipated PaaS-y future.

APIs: Some Considerations

Business Considerations:

Opening up the platform through API is key to the success but it is also important to realize that giving access through API costs money for the platform providers. The platform providers should consider the costs related to API access and plan their business model accordingly. For example, Twitter allowed all sorts of services in their ecosystem to use the Twitter API. Suddenly, one day they realized that they have to make money and banned all services that pushes ads to the timeline using the Twitter API. Even though this move by Twitter is perfectly legitimate, it sent some businesses whose business model were based on injecting ads to the twitter timeline to bust. In the mostly consumer centric Twitter ecosystem, the impact was minimal. Imagine the impact of such drastic moves on a business centric platform ecosystem. It is cruciasl for the Platform Service providers to take the business side of the API access seriously and plan accordingly.

Technological Considerations:

One of the essential characteristics of cloud based services is the ability to scale out based on the demand. Not only the system should be horizontally scalable, the APIs should also be designed for such scalability. Similarly, there are many other technological issues that needs to be considered while designing the API. Therefore, a good API design is crucial to the very existence of the platform service provider. Not only it helps the developers, it also plays an important role on the business success of the provider. Another consideration is to keep the APIs simple. Many platforms start with a simple API but the complexity increases as they grow in their feature set and usage. A complex API makes the life difficult for the developers and it could potentially drive the developers away. There are services like Apigee and Gnip which takes the complexity out of the APIs but it is crucial for the platform providers to not burden their developers.

Legal Considerations:

Apart from the business and technological issues, it is important to take care of the legal considerations too. When you open up access to your platform through API, you are opening yourself up to legal troubles. There are issues like abuse of your resources through API including possible security nightmares. You will need a strong legal handle to take care of such issues. There are issues like misuse of the API and data stored in the platform by third party providers and the associated legal ramifications. Then, there is the contract between the service providers and developers and potential legal wars associated with it. Suppose the platform service provider abruptly changes the terms like what Twitter did recently and if it completely disrupts the business of a third party developer/service provider, their affected clients may create legal troubles for the platform service provider too. These are some of the legal problems that could spring up while opening up the API for a platform. Like in any business, platform providers should ensure due diligence on the legal side of the API.

Conclusion

In this post, I have tried to scratch the surface on the importance of APIs in a world dominated by Platform Services. In fact, there are way too many issues to be considered and I can do a complete research report on the topic. I have just touched upon handful of issues that came to my mind while writing this post. APIs are the backbone of Platform Services and it is important for us to understand the business, technological and legal issues surrounding it. I hope this post will serve as a starting point for a deep dive on this topic by other members of the Clouderati. I strongly encourage the readers of this blog to jump in and offer their thoughts on this important topic.

CloudAve is exclusively sponsored by
Krishnan Subramanian

Krish dons several avatars including entrepreneur in exile, analyst cum researcher, technology evangelist, blogger, ex-physicist, social/political commentator, etc.. My main focus is research and analysis on various high impact topics in the fields of Open Source, Cloud Computing and the interface between them. I also evangelize Open Source and Cloud Computing in various media outlets, blogs and other public forums. I offer strategic advise to both Cloud Computing and Open Source providers and, also, help other companies take advantage of Open Source and Cloud Computing. In my opinion, Open Source commoditized software and Cloud Computing commoditized computing resources. A combination of these two developments offers a strong competitive advantage to companies of all sizes and shapes. Due to various factors, including fear, the adoption of both Open Source and Cloud Computing are relatively slow in the business sector. So, I take it upon myself to clear any confusion in this regard and educate, enrich and advise users/customers to take advantage of the benefits offered by these technologies. I am also a managing partner in two consulting companies based in India. I blog about Open Source topics at http://open.krishworld.com and Cloud Computing related topics at http://www.cloudave.com.

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