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Open APIs: The Fifth Pillar of Modern IT OpennessJay Lyman, March 22, 2012 @ 12:24 pm ET
Last year, I wrote about the key pillars of openness in today’s enterprise IT industry, highlighting open source software, real open standards, open clouds, and open data as the ‘Four Pillars of Modern IT Openness.’
More recently, I wrote about what I now consider to be the fifth pillar, which is open application programming interfaces (APIs). Of course, when we talk about ‘open’ anything — open source, open standards, open clouds, open APIs — there tends to be debate about what is really open, how we should define open and who should or should not be able to carry the phrase. My focus on open APIs and on APIs in general generated some good discussion, as well as some pushback, regarding the value of APIs compared to open source software, which APIs are open, and how open is open enough?
I want to make clear I am not saying open APIs are better than open source. The real point is that the activity, development and innovation happening around APIs — particularly as cloud computing and hybrid public-private use continues to evolve — is reminiscent of the way open source software began disrupting the industry some two decades ago.
The other point is that while customers are typically interested in open source software for flexibility, cost savings, mitigating vendor lock-in, performance, ROI or other reasons, my conversations with both vendors and customers indicate much of the integration in the cloud centers on the openness of the APIs. When customers have stable, documented APIs, it is often more conducive and effective to work there, rather than on the source code. If code, development and deployment are disrupted by closed, changing, weak or undocumented APIs, then developers, customers and the market are likely to quickly move on to other APIs, perhaps ‘open APIs’ that are well documented and include examples. Similar to the other pillars of modern IT openness — open source software, open standards, open clouds and open data, open APIs are most effective and efficient when combined with the others.
Let’s not let open APIs become another version of ‘open standards’ that were anything but 10 years ago. Instead, we should seek to use and call out truly open APIs, which would typically mean connection to open source software, open standards, open clouds and open data as well. However, we must also be aware of the threat, competition and pressure from APIs such as Amazon’s EC2 and AWS interfaces, which are not open source nor open standards, but nonetheless may be open enough for a majority of developers and market.
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