Podium with the 3 best API Management tools

Modern application development and IT infrastructure depend heavily on the use of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and API Management. APIs offer a standard set of rules for systems and applications to connect and interact. Whether you are integrating a new application into an IT infrastructure or connecting the modular components of a microservices-based application, APIs are one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to establish those connections.

While these advantages are clear, there is a significant disadvantage to APIs: The process of developing APIs and establishing and managing API connections can be tedious, time-consuming, and costly. Additionally, over 60 percent of companies experience delays in application deployment due to API security concerns. 

This is where API management can help. An API manager offers a suite of API-related tools and services to dramatically alleviate the cost, time, and labor bottleneck surrounding APIs. In this guide, we will help you understand the fundamental aspects of API management and help you find the top 3 best API Management tools. 

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Table of Contents:

  1. Overview of API Management
  2. Key Components of API Management
  3. Benefits of API Management
  4. Best API Management Tools

Overview of API Management

An API Management platform eases the burden of developing custom APIs and API connections by offering developers a catalog of prebuilt REST (REpresentational State Transfer) APIs and tools for quickly developing custom APIs as required. In turn, this empowers developers to rapidly incorporate services and features into their applications and IT projects. 

The API Manager functions as a gateway that sits between the system you’re developing and the API for the service you want to call. When your system connects to an API, it only calls the API manager rather than the individual APIs it needs to interact with.

The API manager handles the call to the REST API, gets the response, and returns it to your system. It also adds a layer of security, stability, and control by limiting access to the APIs in the catalog, authenticating users, monitoring for problems, query limiting, and logging data for troubleshooting.

Key Components of API Management

An API management platform will include the following services and features at a minimum:

1. Developer Portal

A developer portal is a feature whereby developers can browse, discover, adopt, test, and subscribe to different APIs for a variety of applications and microservices. The developer portal puts everything you need to rapidly integrate new services at your fingertips. Things like authentication, language translations, map services, and endless other features become easy to add to your projects. 

2. API Gateway

An API gateway mediates all of the connections and interactions between your system and the API manager’s catalog of APIs. By managing these interactions, your system only needs to call the API gateway and the gateway manages the actual communication and sends back the results. 

3. API Lifecycle Management

API lifecycle management refers to the tools and services for creating, publishing, deploying, versioning, monitoring, discovering, and consuming custom APIs. Some API management platforms, like DreamFactory, include point-and-click API creation tools that automatically generate REST APIs from any database. These tools allow developers to create and publish custom APIs in a matter of minutes.

API lifecycle management helps the consumer of APIs as well. API management platforms facilitate API discovery and access. They also help API consumers communicate feedback and special requests to developers. Ultimately, API lifecycle management reduces the time and cost of developing, publishing, discovering, and securing custom REST APIs

Benefits of API Management

App developers and enterprises are flocking to API management for the following key benefits:

1. Build an Agile, Loosely Coupled System

Since the API manager handles the connections between your system and the different APIs your system needs to use, it bypasses the need for tightly-coupled connections between the services and apps that comprise your architectural design. In this way, API management supports a more agile, flexible, and loosely-coupled architecture to achieve the following:

  • Minimize the chances of coding conflicts when making upgrades
  • Speeds up development and reduces time to market
  • Make updates and changes faster and more cost-efficient
  • Test new services/features faster and more economically
  • Make managing microservice-based applications considerably easier

2. Standardize Connections for the Widest Variety of APIs

Whether you are developing an app that needs to call different APIs or integrating different applications into your IT infrastructure, you may be dealing with a variety of API formats and protocols. These may include any of the followings:

  • SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)
  • REST
  • XML-RPC (Extensible Markup Language Remote Procedure Call)
  • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)-RPC

You may also need to connect with open APIs, partner APIs, and internal APIs with different authentication requirements and access restrictions. An API manager like DreamFactory automatically manages authentication and access for different types of APIs. Such a platform provides the necessary protocol and format translations to integrate the widest variety of APIs into your projects.

3. Put the Most Useful APIs at Your Fingertips

An API manager puts a searchable API directory at your fingertips to facilitate app development. In this way, the API manager provides a variety of readily-available services. By searching through an organized catalog, developers can quickly discover, use and reuse APIs for the services and features they want to incorporate into their projects. 

4. Advanced Monitoring and Logging

An API manager keeps tabs on your connections through advanced monitoring features that provide detailed logging and audit trails. This helps with detecting and troubleshooting problems because you can examine the exact administrator and user actions that triggered the abnormal event or malfunction. 

5. Streamline API Authentication

Advanced API management platforms like DreamFactory empower developers to quickly weave authentication services (like Active Directory, Okta, Google, and more) into their apps and projects. This allows you to implement role-based access controls (RBAC), manage API keys, and deploy other security features.

6. Standardize Security

API management makes it easier to standardize security across an enterprise IT infrastructure. The API manager ensures that all of the connections passing through it conform to SOC2 (Service Organization Control), PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard), GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and various security standards your organization might need to adhere to.

API security is a top concern for many organizations, with over nine out of 10 of all companies suffering from an API security vulnerability every year. Many API management platforms optimize specifically to avoid the top security risks as summarized in the OWASP API Security Project

Just a few of these include:

  • Broken user authentication. Authentication methods like RBAC are essential features for APIs, but without an API management platform, there is a stronger potential for broken or misconfigured authentication, resulting in unauthorized access. 
  • Excessive data exposure. The best API management platforms also provide alerts and safeguards to prevent accidental or poorly considered data exposure. The more data gets exposed, the greater the potential for losing your clients’ trust and facing fines due to non-compliance. 
  • Insufficient monitoring. Many vulnerabilities are discovered too late and the consequences to your business and your clients can be dire. An API management platform works to prevent serious data leaks by monitoring any unusual activity. 

7. Implement API Rate Limiting

Most apps and systems can only handle a certain number of requests before they get overloaded, experience slowdowns, or need to shut down. To prevent traffic overload, an API manager can use API rate limiting, API quotas, and spike arrests to throttle and slow down requests from overly-active IP addresses. These features can also trigger fees, cancel requests or send an error code to abusive IPs.

Best API Management Tools

The API management vertical features a wide range of platforms. Here are some of the best API management solutions on the market right now:

1. DreamFactory

DreamFactory was designed to be the fastest, securest, easiest-to-use API manager for connecting the widest variety of apps, data, and services. One of the most impressive features of DreamFactory is its automatic REST API generation tool.

DreamFactory allows you to automatically generate custom REST APIs for any database in minutes, not the weeks it normally requires for custom coding. DreamFactory streamlines all aspects of API lifecycle management to achieve the most time-efficient and cost-effective development cycle possible. 

Here are the most noteworthy features/characteristics of DreamFactory:

  • Support for REST, SOAP, SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol), MQTT (MQ Telemetry Transport), SQL (Structured Query Language), XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and email
  • Automatic REST API generation tool
  • GDPR, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) compliant
  • Live API documentation
  • Support for the most widely-used authentication solutions
  • Role-based access control (RBAC) capabilities
  • Runs in the cloud or on-premises

Here’s what one user says about using DreamFactory:

“Dreamfactory has solved a lot of key pain points for us. Dreamfactory makes it very easy for us to create APIs that connect to our SQL databases. We love the flexibility this gives us and it has improved our security by preventing our applications from directly connecting to the databases. Dreamfactory makes it easy to manage access to our APIs and services through the use of roles and application-based controls. Access controls are granular enough to be useful, but not too onerous to manage.”

Another client reports, “There is currently nothing I dislike about DreamFactory. I cannot fault the platform in any way.” 

Other users mention the following benefits to using DreamFactory: 

  1. Reduces pain points in REST API generation.
  2. Simplifies integrations
  3. Highly agile
  4. Easy to use and understand
  5. Easy-to-configure RBAC settings
  6. Comprehensive services for every aspect of API management
  7. Excellent support team
  8. Robust security measures to ensure your APIs are safe from vulnerabilities

And so much more. Customers report overwhelmingly positive experiences, in particular thanks to the low-code/no-code REST API generation features. 

A couple of cons may be:

  1. Certain configurations could be more intuitive
  2. Occasionally extended response times

2. Boomi

Like DreamFactory, Boomi offers an API management solution for building and integrating applications and services. It supports full API lifecycle management with tools to build, publish and control API connections. Unlike DreamFactory, Boomi does not include an automatic API generation tool, so coding custom REST APIs will take longer with Boomi compared to DreamFactory. 

Boomi offers solutions and integrations for Amazon, Salesforce, Slack, Okta and much more. They offer useful features for various industries including healthcare, manufacturing, retail and SAAS (Software as a Service) providers.

Boomi includes a range of integration services in addition to API management, such as an ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) platform for large-scale data extract, transform and load operations. These services make Boomi more expensive than DreamFactory.

Unless you need an ETL platform in addition to an API management solution, Boomi could be unnecessarily expensive for your needs. Boomi also comes with a steep learning curve and developers require training and certification to use the platform.

Here’s one customer’s experience using the Dell Boomi API management solution:

“While I like most of the features and functions, the training cost is huge compared to the training content. I recently got certified for Dev I & II, where the content does not have Find Changes and web services covered. As a developer, I would expect these basic things to be covered for the huge money I am paying.”

Some pros of Boomi include:

  1. Fairly easy integration with various services 
  2. Constantly adding new connectors and integrations
  3. Includes some low-code features and drag-and-drop functionality
  4. Frequent updates
  5. A fairly low learning curve
  6. Provides integration templates for common configurations

Customers also mention some noteworthy downsides: 

  1. Clunky UI (User Interface)
  2. Somewhat inadequate documentation
  3. Requires training and onboarding
  4. Some processes can be complex, causing a greater margin for error

Despite these disadvantages, Boomi remains one of the top solutions for API management. Many clients report being satisfied with their experience for the most part. 

3. Mulesoft Anypoint Platform 

MuleSoft is a Salesforce company. As a “kitchen-sink” integration solution, the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform serves virtually every integration use-case you can imagine — including ESB, API Manager, API lifecycle manager, and ETL platform. 

Some of the major features of MuleSoft include reusable assets, automatic data transformations, API testing, and monitoring, and much more. You can deploy MuleSoft either in the cloud or on-premises. Additionally, the platform provides native compliance for the most common data security standards. It is a trusted and comprehensive solution for many companies. 

Although MuleSoft is one of the most popular and widely-used API management platforms, its many services and features come with a high price tag and steep learning curve. Successfully operating the platform will often require one or more Mulesoft engineers.

When you consider that a Mulesoft engineer costs approximately $100,000 a year in wages in addition to the platform’s considerable licensing fees and other costs, most small-to-medium-sized businesses will not be able to afford the platform.

MuleSoft is one of the best API management solutions available, but if you do not need its wide range of services, you may find that you can achieve your goals with a more cost-effective solution, like DreamFactory

Here is what one customer said about MuleSoft after two years of using the Anypoint Platform:

“The Anypoint Platform has matured significantly since its inception. It now has API management, analytics, dashboards, self-discovery, and multiple deployment options. As the feature set has gone up, so has the price. It’s starting to price out small to mid-level customers.”

Some other benefits that customers mention are: 

  1. Easy integration with the Salesforce platform and offerings
  2. Fast deployment
  3. A multitude of pre-built connectors
  4. Excellent availability and scalability
  5. A trusted reputation
  6. The transparent and simple pricing structure

Some cons include: 

  1. Poor or inadequate training
  2. Transfer from on-premise to the cloud can be annoyingly complex and difficult
  3. Very expensive

Smaller companies will need to seek a solution that better matches their price range and needs. This is one reason many companies might choose DreamFactory over MuleSoft. 

DreamFactory allows you to rapidly create and connect APIs for your application and IT development projects. With DreamFactory’s automatic REST API generation features and full API lifecycle management tools, the platform provides a new level of development speed, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use. 

API management is an essential tool for your business to succeed. Making sure that the solution you choose is right for you will guarantee your company can move forward instead of falling behind. 

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Want to see how DreamFactory can blow through your API-related bottlenecks and help you achieve faster development cycles? Contact DreamFactory for a free, hosted trial of the platform now!