Finding the Best API Management Tool

-
8 min read

Navigating the intricacies of API management can be quite challenging, not only for newcomers but also for seasoned professionals. And finding and implementing the perfect API management tool can turn into a long, complex, and costly task. Yet, this is a crucial tool for any company looking for sharing its APIs, whether it’s for internal or external usage. This is what will transform your API into the super-charged asset your business is depending on. And you need to have a clear view of the API management landscape to make the best choice, according to your needs. This blog post is here to help define your needs and find the perfect API management tool for you.

What is API management?

API management is the term encompassing every step of the API lifecycle, from designing to documenting and publishing, then from exposing to analyzing, monetizing, and monitoring usage, and finally from versioning to deprecation.

API management is the process of overseeing an API's usage, which includes access management, usage policies, and overall security. Since APIs can be used to stream critical data for organizations and be the cornerstone of entire businesses, API management is decisive.

We can identify several features API management provides:

  • API design, or lifecycle management — which are tools used to design, build and deploy APIs. This is the step where developers usually test and debug the API before its launch. This includes the next steps of deployment, subsequent versioning, and deprecation.
  • API policy manager —  which delivers granulated rules on a large range of access control management, from authorization and authentification (API key, OAuth2, etc.) to request policies like rate limits or quota. This is an important step to guarantee the API's security.
  • API analytics — which provides data on numerous aspects of the API traffic and helps identify usage patterns: on the technical side, error rates and performances, and on the business side valuable information about conversion, monetization, and time to first call. Such analytics can help evaluate whether documentation or API versioning needs to be improved or whether policies should be changed.
  • API gateway — which is the link between the API provider and the API consumer. The API provider can manage access to the API and enable usage limits and API consumer monitors its usage and consumption.
  • API portal (or developer portal) — which is the API showcase where developers can discover and interact with the API. They can access API documentation, test the endpoints and assess the value provided by the API. This is where an API can be monetized.

How to choose an API management tool?

As we just saw, API management is essential for every organization that deals with APIs. And there are plenty of fish in the sea when it comes to solutions — G2 has close to 200 entries. We can distinguish three categories of solutions to manage APIs:

Internally developed platform

Building an API management platform from scratch can seem like a pertinent option since it will manage some of the organization’s most critical assets. This can also be a solution for organizations with very specific use cases.

But this option has its share of challenges. Firstly, though this could seem counter-intuitive, this option can quickly turn out to be much more expensive. It will require lots of development time and human resources to build it, and in the longer run, to maintain it.

Open-source solution

Many open-source options like Apiman are available. They can be a good basis for a personalized API management platform. They also have the advantage of having a devoted user base that can help use and implement the project. And for organizations wishing to avoid the “black box” sensation of proprietary solutions, open-source is a relevant option to look at.

On the other hand, this solution shares many of the drawbacks associated with the internally developed solution: open-source will require development resources and the day-to-day management will still amount to an in-house.

Semi-open-source solutions are also available. They offer free open-source with basic options and have built a commercial layer on top. Kong is one of them.

Proprietary solution

This is the preferred option for many organizations. A turnkey API management product allows organizations to have an up-and-running solution very quickly while reserving development resources for core product features. Using such platforms can deeply ease the workload, as offers often come with support and customer service management. Companies selling those platforms are arguably knowledgeable about their business and have already adapted their product to numerous use cases. And since they act as proxies, they are bound to offer SLAs, thus reducing the risk of downtime.

The cost of comfort provided by proprietary API management solutions is often quite high, which is often quite important. Small and medium companies cannot afford most of those solutions, and even larger companies can have a hard time getting a rapid return on investment.

Most proprietary solutions offer features covering the whole API management specter, which can result in a sentiment of vendor lock-in, which can limit flexibility. Finally, those solutions are often complex and therefore difficult to grasp and use.

MuleSoft, Apigee, and Axway are among the providers using this model.

API management platform benchmark

Here are some of the most important API management tools. We will review what makes them different, and their respective pros and cons.

MuleSoft’s Anypoint

Anypoint is the Mulesoft solution for API management. Mulesoft is a software company owned by Salesforce. Mulesoft claims to be the number 1 platform for APIs. Anypoint features:

  • Anypoint Flex Gateway provides security, traffic management, and analytics capabilities for APIs. It can be deployed on any infrastructure, including on-premises, multi-cloud, and hybrid environments.
  • API governance provides tools for ensuring security, compliance, and consistency across an organization's APIs.
  • Anypoint CLI is a command-line interface that enables users to interact with Anypoint Platform's APIs and automate common tasks.
  • Anypoint API Community Manager is the API developer portal used to share APIs with third parties.

Anypoint pros and cons

Pros:

  • A solid set of analytics is provided with the developer portal.
  • Its low-code approach makes it easy to use, according to some users.
  • API building is therefore easier and does not require extensive knowledge in programming languages.
  • An active community of developers.

Cons:

  • Price is a recurrent concern, it is deemed too expensive for small and medium-sized companies.
  • A steep learning curve for some users, even with the extensive documentation.
  • A sentiment of complexity caused by the wide array of features provided by Anypoint.
  • Customer service is sometimes less helpful than the developer community.

Google’s Apigee

Apigee is the Google Cloud solution for API management. It was bought by Google in 2016. It provides a wide range of API management services, including:

  • An API proxies builder supporting REST, SOAP or GraphQL. Such proxies can be used as connections with the back end: these API proxies are the ones shared with API consumers.
  • Advanced API Security, a tool designed to identify abusive usage and security threats.
  • The ability to bundle APIs and create products which can be displayed on a personalized developer portal. Monetization options are also available.

Apigee pros and cons

Pros:

  • Integration to Google Cloud Services makes it a native option for companies already using the platform.
  • The API proxy system shields API-consuming services from back-end changes.
  • Monetization options of the developer portal.

Cons:

  • Flexible pricing is hard to understand — it is a pay-as-you-go system based on numerous criteria — and can be a heavy burden for smaller companies.
  • Complexity of usage and overall poor UI experience, Apigee is sometimes seen as difficult to use.
  • The integration with the Google Cloud ecosystem renders Apigee less competitive for companies using other cloud computing services like AWS.

Axway’s Amplify

Amplify is Axway’s API management offer. It assembles all the components needed to build, manage and expose APIs, namely:

  • An API builder, which is an integration management layer based on Node.js designed to connect different services such as databases, existing REST APIs, or cloud applications to the API management system.
  • An API manager layer to establish policies and alerts, add APIs to the API catalog and a partner-based API consumer management.
  • An API gateway to provide core API infrastructure features like security, control and governance or monitoring.
  • An API portal to expose the API catalog set with the API manager tool. This is a CMS-based customizable web interface enabling self-service registration for API consumers.
  • Analytics, with key reports on the API gateways, API usage, and key health indicators like response time, error rate, or SLA breaches.

Amplify pros and cons

Pros:

  • The possibility to use the API portal as a marketplace and to monetize APIs.
  • A UI more efficient and simple to navigate than other API management solutions, junior API developer profiles can set it up.
  • A complete service covering the whole API lifecycle, from building, to managing and exposing APIs.

Cons:

  • The API portal isn’t customizable and user-friendly enough for some users.
  • Pricing not available to the public.
  • Some users think the onboarding process is lacking some demos.

Kong

Kong is a company offering an open-source API gateway based on NGINX (a free and open-source software) and enterprise services covering the whole API lifecycle and management. Kong services are the following:

  • Insomnia, a collaborative API designing tool where users can develop, test and debug APIs.
  • Kong Mesh, based on the Kuma open-source project, which is designed to manage, secure, and observe service-to-service communication in microservices and container-based architectures.
  • A core API management offering which combines Kong Manager, analytics and a developer portal. Kong Enterprise is the self-managed option, while Kong Konnect is the SaaS one.

Kong pros and cons

Pros:

  • A looser API management, a SaaS-oriented option, and an open source API gateway are available.
  • Plugin catalog to connect additional features or services to Kong. This includes more authentication methods, security and policy-related features and ways to connect Kong to external services.
  • Friendlier pricing for small and mid-sized companies, with a basic free plan and a pay-as-you-go option.
  • Open-sourced product guaranteeing access to basic API management functionalities.

Cons:

  • Documentation is sometimes deemed incomplete and confusing, the community is viewed as not as developed, compared to those of other open-source projects.
  • While extensive, the plugin catalog might not have all the required functionalities. You may need to develop customized ones to respond to specific use cases.
  • Limited analytics and API monitoring built-in features. Users need to rely on Kong and third-party plugins to complete the product.
  • The quality of some third-party plugins varies and might not be up to date with Kong’s latest versions.

Which API management model is the right for your use case?

This non-exhaustive list shows that if many API management tools offer the same services, they differ in many other ways. However, they do have something in common: their price is often quite high and they are seen as hard to use and not sufficiently user-friendly.

If companies like Apigee or Axway provided game-changing solutions when they were launched, in today’s API economy, the approach of some of those products is not aligned with the needs of users.

Gartner identified that companies struggle to implement full life-cycle API management solutions and that a growing number of them set aside such unified solutions, preferring to focus on single components that will provide a more specialized service.

Here’s what to consider before making your choice:

In line with your API Strategy

Choosing an API management tool isn’t just an engineering decision, but a business one too. Depending on your goals, you may end up wanting a tool that will help you achieve a particular objective. For example, if you plan on sharing or monetizing your API and counting on it to grow your business, then you will want to have a top-notch API portal. One that will provide a productized view of your APIs, talk to more diverse profiles — developers and product profiles alike — and provide insightful data for making valuable business and technical decisions.

API-First and ready for the API economy

API-First is a way to design APIs as product-centric, user-oriented, and delivering value in the most efficient way. It also refers to companies whose business model is completely based on APIs. For that, you need loose, agnostic API management that will keep your business and API priorities aligned. Low and no-code tools should take preference, as product teams could, for example, have their own terms for attributing authorizations and changing policies on the spot. A developer portal providing business-oriented metrics can also help you achieve your API business goals.

API product-oriented

If your goal is to share or monetize your APIs, you need an API management tool that will encourage API adoption. This means one that provides simple ways to turn your API into products. API products can give granulated access to data, with different usage policies and improve API discoverability. This can be a way to monetize APIs more efficiently, as the value delivered can vary according to the chosen endpoints.

Final words

Choosing the right API management tool is essential for any organization that works with APIs. Finding the right one for your company means first establishing your API strategy and priorities and then, weighing the pros and cons of each solution. Whether you opt for an internally developed platform, an open-source solution, or a proprietary offering, make sure that the tool is aligned with your API strategy, is API-First and ready for the API economy, and is API product-oriented if you plan on sharing or monetizing your APIs.

Blobr can respond to your needs with another kind of API management. You get decide at the API product level of the access and usage policies, and monetize with built-in integration to Stripe. This API-consumer-first approach helps grow API adoption, and a comprehensive set of business analytics gives you a complete view of your AARRR funnel.

In today’s API economy, choosing the right management tool can make all the difference in unlocking your API's full potential.

Ready to get started?

Join companies who use Blobr to to enhance the experience of their product.

Book a demo

Keep reading

February 8, 2023

A Quick Guide to Business Models for APIs

Find the difference between API business models, to see the one that will best suits your business needs.
March 29, 2023

API Keys Best Practices

A checklist for API keys best practices.
December 13, 2021

A step-by-step guide to creating your own API business

What are the steps to go through to create a cool & profitable API business on Blobr?
Consent Preferences