Are APIs Basically SOA? Three Reasons You Need to Know

Loraine Lawson
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I have something important to tell you about APIs, but first you have to pinky-promise to stay with me through the end.

Here’s why: I’m going to have to use the taboo term “SOA” to make the point, and you’re probably going to want to run away.

Okay. Ready: APIs are essentially the same thing as SOA…. Or are they? (Raises eyebrow while petting hairless cat, ala Dr. Evil.)

There are some very good arguments that they’re more or less the same thing.

APIs, or application programming interfaces, are the main way we access SaaS and other cloud-based services, especially on mobile devices. It turns out, APIs are almost always built with REST, which is one way to build services for SOA. Plus, as I’ve mentioned previously, many SOA management vendors are now shifting into API management.

But does that make them “basically” the same thing? ZDNet blogger Joe McKendrick, who focuses on SOA issues, has been writing about both sides of this issue. What I take away from his coverage is that — yes, they have some things in common but they’re not really the same thing, exactly.

This matters for three reasons:

  1. They’re not interchangeable in terms of the technology. In fact, APIs are managed at a different layer from SOA. In fact, they happen at different layers. This means you can’t just use your SOA stuff to build and manage APIs.
  2. Each addresses a different business strategy, according to this McKendrick post, which quotes Ed Anuff, vice product of Product Strategy at Apigee. APIs are great for advancing a channel strategy, but for an integration strategy, you’ll want SOA, Anuff contends. "This is why we see a lot of API strategies driven by an e-commerce team, or web team as perhaps your integration team or SOA team," says Anuff. Still, as McKendrick explains in a separate post, there are a lot of similarities, which brings us to our third reason why this matters.
  3. Because of the similarities, many SOA best practices and lessons can be applied to API management.

That’s an important takeaway for IT managers and CIOs, since with some cross-team training, your mobile strategy team can benefit from what you learned with SOA.

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