Dimtri Sirota, the co-founder and chief strategy officer for Layer 7, explains to IT Business Edge how the company’s new APIfy, a cloud-based API manager, lets enterprises and other organizations open up data and services to an external developer community, without investing heavily in an IT infrastructure. The solution is currently in open beta.
Lawson: I know Layer 7 offers a portal to help enterprises manage APIs, but this new solution is different. What is it?
Sirota: It’s based on the portal, so actually you're not too far away. Essentially, the portal is something that you install and run, and again, it’s geared for organizations.
What we’ve essentially done is scaled it down a little bit, made it easier for smaller organizations, as well as departments — folks that don’t necessarily have access to IT — to open up some of their internal information assets and making them available to inside and outside mobile developers.
Historically, this required a lot of kind of IT infrastructure. Obviously, companies don’t like to make data available outside of their DMZ. Part of the challenge of mobile development is they need to open up.
What we’ve launched is a platform that makes it easier for smaller organizations and departments in the larger enterprises that have data residing in a database, maybe in a website, and they want to essentially make it available through an API to insider or outside developers. But of course, if you're going to do that, you need a way of managing that API, securing that API, tracking those developers, etc.
We’ve always supported the ability for organizations to deploy private cloud, so we’re not unfamiliar with the idea of a cloud, but essentially what we’ve done is we’ve made it a little bit more consumable to non-technical folks. We’ve obscured some of the more complex elements of the technology, and we made it kind of accessible to a new range of buyer … so those are the platform strategists: the developer evangelists, API and program managers. Then, secondly, folks tasked with the responsibility of building out a developer channel, building out a developer ecosystem. Those are the target buyers for this service.
Lawson: Is this in response to a need or is it in response to what your competition is doing? I’m particularly interested because my question is how much IT is willing to allow their data to be opened.
Sirota: There’s a little bit of both. Candidly, there are a group of companies that launched previously with SaaS-only offerings, but never really targeted IT. And they’ve had some success. From the revenue standpoint, certainly we’re larger, but nevertheless, they do speak to audiences inside of both small and mid-size and even large organizations. There are proof points that there is a market for this and I think it’s an entry market, but it’s a market that we nevertheless don’t want to concede to a competitor.
What makes us unique is we do have that solution that can transition into a full-fledged IT scale infrastructure, whereas our competitors start and stop as a SaaS.
I think there is a time and place for SaaS. It gives you access, it’s obviously fast, it’s simple and there’s a segment in the market that is looking to launch an API program quickly and they're not IT. I know it’s surprising, but whether they're Web admins or even marketing groups, there is a lot of things that happen inside of enterprises that IT organizations normally disallow, but it happens sometimes under their noses.
The great thing about what we do is that once they (IT) do discover what’s going on, they say, “Look, we need to lock this information down.” Guess what? We have the right product for them. We have the Layer 7 and API management suite and we’re there to be able to kind of transition and that transition becomes a lot easier. And again, that makes us unique among the SaaS providers in the space in that we do have a pathway to the data center.
Lawson: Do you think that they’ll be interested in using it internally or are they willing to open data?
Sirota: For these audiences, it’s primarily external. There seems to be a push within a lot of organizations to use that long-tail developer community for innovation. So whether it’s pharmacies, whether it’s retailers, they want to basically get pricing SKUs, promotions, all of those kinds of data available to these long-tail developers.
They want to do that because they want to be relevant. They want to reach new users and the best way to reach them is by having information in all these apps. I think a lot of them are looking at the success that Twitter has in terms of accumulating 500 million users in four short years and they did that by being an open platform.
Obviously, enterprises aren’t going to be completely open. They're not going to open up their SAP infrastructure to the outside world and say, “Come at it.” I think they will be selective. We address some of the security elements. We address the core access elements and what we need to open up the information.
Now, keep in mind that our expectation is this particular group that we’re selling to is not going to be opening up the keys to the kingdom. They're going to be opening up select types of information. Like I said, promotions, specials, maybe flyers, that type of thing.
Lawson: In what way does this solution support enterprise integration and what CIOs need to understand about what you're doing here?
Sirota: I think the critical piece to understand about integration and how API supports integration. Historically, people that were embarking on service-oriented initiatives for integration were implementing SOAP in Web services. What we’re finding is SOAP still retains a lot of popularity inside the enterprise. As soon as organizations started wanting to move to the edge of the enterprise and wanting to enable integration with apps on a device or services on a cloud or partners, they're moving towards REST. So they're moving away from SOAP because of the complexity and towards REST.
Part of our offering with our API gateway, our Layer 7 enterprise offering, is making that transition smooth: Providing all the conversions, providing all the security, providing all the management, all the availability, all the performance optimizations and things like caching, and providing that kind of edge-based solution to an organization that inside information that needs to make it available to a partner in real time. You can make it available to an app on a device.
The service that we’re launching here obviously has echoes of that. We’re still using the APIs. We’re still using the management. The difference, of course, is that there’s one extra hop. Instead of going enterprise to partner or enterprise to app, it’s going enterprise to cloud to app.
It still solves some of the same pain points. I think at the end of the day, we view mobile app development as really an integration challenge. When somebody is constructing an app and that app resides on a tablet and that tablet calls information that’s inside the enterprise, you're essentially integrating.
With Layer 7, we obviously sell technology to make that connectivity or point to point. We provide a means to essentially post that in the cloud. There’s no IT to own. There’s an additional hop, but you still solve some of the same pain points.
Lawson: Do you think this will be an entryway for enterprises? Or is it more likely to appeal to small businesses?
Sirota: I think it’s going to appeal to two audiences. It’s going to be a tech community, so startups that are going to find this of value, because they already run other IT in the Amazon cloud, anyway.
But I do think it’s going to appeal to enterprises. A lot of enterprises are trying to do this. Some of the Web apps that they're running are in the cloud. It’s not even in their IT departments. So I do think that this will be a starting option for some organizations and, eventually we’ll transition to something wider ranging.
We’re definitely seeing APIs kind of leading the charge, moreso than even SOA, as a starter for conversation. And again, it’s driven by mobility; it’s driven by cloud. But API is at the centerpiece of those integrations and as a consequence, I think just having a service gives us a lot more versatility in terms of how we deliver a solution to the marketing. It gives customers a lot more versatility in terms of how they buy it.