Application Programming Interface (API) gateways enable secure, streamlined data access and transfer. They can retrieve data stored in legacy systems or the cloud, translating technology protocols when needed. As a result, they play a crucial role in scaling up applications and making data transfers more efficient.
For example, an API gateway allows sending a data request to all connected databases in one move. Without the API gateway, communicating with each database to retrieve the required data would take much more time. The benefits of API gateways are not limited to speed and efficiency alone. The next step API gateways take in IT infrastructure evolution is to support microservice applications. Earlier, applications operated as monoliths containing all necessary components and data.
API gateways allow integrating monolithic applications with newly developed microservices and databases to improve their functioning. Equally, newer apps can take advantage of existing apps without further programming. Like any other technology, API gateways offer a mixed bag of pros and cons. You can choose between different types of API gateways based on the purpose of using the gateway.
In basic terms, an API gateway’s functions include routing requests for data or information to the respective microservice APIs and ensuring that the response is delivered accurately. As these functions involve clear communication, API gateways translate the request and the information into apt protocols. API gateways that convey information from or to a REST API use HTTP, for example.
They also separate the service APIs from the client API and ensure that service-side changes do not affect the client. To understand the benefits of using API gateways, you should see which functions they perform and how.
One of these benefits is ensuring secure, authentic data transfers. Routing data through an API gateway protects the connected microservice or backend app by preventing direct interfacing. Adding extra security protocols like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) can make the connected APIs more secure. Besides improving security, API gateways make request routing more efficient by:
Further, API gateways allow the composition and transformation of service responses, which reduces the need for complex client interfaces. They can also help optimize APIs by monitoring their performance, response time, security, and other relevant parameters. This tracking of client requests and API responses also makes API gateways useful for conducting request audits. Some API gateways also provide analytics on the data requests processed and reduce the load on APIs.
Based on the function of the API gateway, you can opt to use either a centralized gateway or a series of gateways. Centralized API gateways can perform all the functions discussed above, which makes them ideal for use with monolithic apps. However, their utility is limited as they can be difficult to modify or reprogram. Further, they are more suitable for regulating interactions between clients and services.
Using a tiered API gateway structure is a more flexible – but less scalable – approach. For example, you can dedicate one API gateway to ensure security and set up a second gateway for routing. You can use a microgateway performing fewer functions when you need an API gateway to communicate only between microservices. In this approach, the DevOps teams that manage the microservice APIs also control the microgateways.
Another option involves deploying microgateways as per-pod gateways when used only for authentication and rate limitation, or as sidecars, for authorization and load balancing. In these approaches, you still need an edge or centralized API gateway to route client requests.
You may think of API gateways purely in terms of their functionality but you should also consider how you plan to deploy them and if you need to customize them later. If you deploy a single API gateway to regulate traffic to all your APIs, you need to confirm that the gateway is unlikely to fail or face a data breach. You may also ask if deploying the API gateway is likely to make your system architecture more complex and require more communication.
An API gateway is intended to speed up the client-service interaction and should not add to the processing time. Most of today’s cloud service providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, or Google Cloud offer proprietary API gateways which tend to work well with the cloud APIs. They often include deployment tools that ease setting up your infrastructure.
But these gateways may prove expensive or difficult to configure with your legacy systems or other services. You could choose to host an open-source API gateway like Kong or Express API Gateway instead if you can guarantee support for future customization.
Enterprise API solutions providers are moving towards developing API platforms, in parallel with the rising popularity of microservices architecture. Both these trends suggest increased use of API gateways and they can be a major point of difference between service offerings.
This will trigger further advances in the design of API gateways, making them more scalable, flexible, and customizable without significantly affecting their cost. Open-source API gateways backed by a large developer community may find more takers than proprietary solutions tied to other services.
However, deploying API gateways is only one part of managing APIs, which are the more significant part of any IT infrastructure. Accordingly, you should consider the effort and cost involved in choosing and setting up an API gateway in proportion to overall API management. If you are deploying API gateways as part of an API integration exercise, you can choose an enterprise API integrator like the solution offered by DataFinz.
Always consider choosing a solution based on your current requirements and potential service expansion. When selecting IT infrastructure, cost or functionality may prove less limiting than the ability to visualize future growth.