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Container Orchestration Illustrates Power of the (Other) API Economy

Digital transformation cannot be focused solely on the outside, it must include the inside as well.

This year’s buzzword bingo card includes the amorphous phrases “digital transformation” and “API economy.” They have real meanings, but they’re often obscured so much as to make them relatively meaningless when applied to technology. Digital transformation is often used to describe the migration from pen on paper to bits and bytes. Put simply, it’s the move to take what are manual processes and mine them for efficiency by replacing them with APIs and apps, instead. This movement gave birth to the API economy; a wondrous ecosystem where businesses expose their capabilities via APIs in an effort to expand their reach and find new consumers. This increases profits obviously by expanding business, but also in no small part by reducing the operating costs associated with reaching them. An army of developers integrating your business capabilities with the latest version of their app, after all, costs you virtually nothing. Unless the operational costs of scaling to meet the demand they generate winds up negating those gains. Which is why a focus on transforming the inside of the data center is just as critical as that of the outside.  container integration

This internal effort is already under way. It is often seen in the adoption of DevOps and the implementation of continuous delivery in app development. It’s evident in the way NetOps are embracing automation and orchestration and transforming largely manual, people-driven processes to code-based, technology triggered ones. This is where the other API economy is thriving. Where systems and devices enabled with the right APIs encourage the growth of an ecosystem that makes traditionally difficult (and complex) operational activities easier and more efficient. Scalability, for example, is a significant driver of integration inside the data center. Whether it’s operational scale – trying to grow the capacity of IT to deliver and deploy the resources necessary to support and secure new apps – or the application scale necessary to meet demand and maintain consistent performance in the face of growing user engagement – scale is one of the most common activities to take advantage of the other API economy.

Container orchestration systems like those from Mesos and Kubernetes (and yes, Docker, too) illustrate the powerful shift occurring inside the data center. Enabled with APIs designed specifically to aid and enhance the process of scale, these container-managing APIs are being consumed by traditional and emerging data center vendors to offer the app services necessary to manage scale and traffic without sacrificing security.

The ability to integrate quickly is enabled by the pervasiveness of APIs. APIs that no customer (internal or external) will ever see – nor need to. These APIs are the unsung heroes of digital transformation; the means by which other systems grab hold and react to changes in demand automatically. Containers are particularly adept in this environment. With their ability to increase an app’s capacity in sub-second time, they are being rapidly adopted by organizations who have long sought greater responsiveness in their scalability architectures.  But scale doesn’t happen without a scalability (a.k.a. proxy or load balancing) service. That service must be able to add and remove container-based apps and services as quickly and efficiently as possible. That means integration via APIs that automagically manage scale in both directions (up and down). That’s the other API economy at work, and it’s working well.

This (other) API economy is flourishing. Whether it’s OpenStack (which saw considerable gains in adoption in our latest State of Application Delivery Survey) or containers, which saw similarly impressive growth, APIs are enabling the internal digital transformation of IT from manual, people-driven operations to automated, technology-triggered operations. It is shifting the burden from people to technology, which in turn has an impact on the speed with which both existing and new applications can be delivered to both the internal and external audiences that demand them.

But one cannot occur without the other. A manual, people-driven infrastructure cannot support the growing number of apps and systems and processes necessary to power business in a digital-based economy. APIs are the means by which organizations are able to transform the business, but it has to start at the heart of the business, and today that heart lies squarely within IT.