API connectivity refers to using modular and reusable APIs to link data and applications in cloud-native environments. In contrast to API management, which focuses on managing the lifecycles of individual APIs, API connectivity encompasses loosely coupled, microservices environments where many APIs are communicating with each other and enables securing and governing APIs at scale in those architectures.

While APIs were once only seen as a tool for developers, they are now strategic business assets, creating revenue and supporting enterprise agility. As organizations innovate and adopt APIs, new challenges arise around visibility, security, and governance. Enterprises need new kinds of API connectivity solutions that complement both traditional and microservice architectures, align with DevOps practices, and support high‑performance APIs.

Types of APIs and the API Connectivity Experience

In the past, full lifecycle API management solutions were designed primarily to manage north-south traffic (client to backend) for either internal or external APIs. Now, with cloud-native infrastructures generating more east-west traffic (among microservices within an organization’s application infrastructure), the types of APIs have also increased.

Currently, most enterprises work with four types of APIs:

  • Internal APIs – Exposed only to other applications (and their developers) within an enterprise, not to external users. Internal APIs help unlock data and foster collaboration among functional units within an enterprise.
  • External APIs – Exposed to users outside your enterprise. External APIs provide the means to build partnerships with third-party developers and your entire business ecosystem and can be sources of revenue.
  • Partner APIs – Exposed to business partners. These APIs are not publicly available – they are accessible to select developers who satisfy the authentication (AuthN) and authorization (AuthZ) requirements of both businesses.
  • Third-party APIs – Exposed by third parties and located on their servers. These APIs tend to provide a widely needed service (such as maps) and are expressly developed for other companies to use, usually for a fee.

Other key elements of API connectivity are an API gateway (either a reverse proxy or Ingress controller) and an API developer portal. An API gateway accepts API requests from clients, directs them to the appropriate services, and combines the results into a synchronous experience for the user. The developer portal is an online location where you publish resources that facilitate rapid onboarding of your API consumers, such as a catalog of your external APIs, comprehensive documentation, and sample code. It also allows third‑party developers to register their apps and obtain credentials for accessing the APIs.

The Challenge of Multi-Cloud

Today, APIs and microservices are being deployed across multiple environments – public cloud, private cloud, on premises, and at the edge. And as microservices become a key tool for high-traffic companies to scale their applications, the volume of internal API traffic has also greatly increased.

The proliferation of API endpoints in complex, multi-cloud environments requires a new approach to API management, governance, and security. These distributed environments require low-touch, automated approaches that empower developers and give Platform Ops teams the ability to set security and resource guardrails across different lines of business.

Ensuring the reliability and security of multi‑cloud architectures presents a challenge for Platform Ops teams. They need global visibility into application and API traffic, and the ability to apply consistent security and compliance policies across different environments. Platform-native tools all operate differently and provide different degrees of visibility and control. Ultimately, Platform Ops teams need a different model for creating and applying governance across distributed teams and environments.

Two models – centralized and decentralized – have been common for API governance. But in modern API strategies, and particularly in API-first models, a new concept of “adaptive governance” empowers API developers while giving Platform Ops teams reliability and security control.

To learn more, read Adaptive Governance Gives API Developers the Autonomy They Need on our blog.

The Importance of API-First Tools

Cloud-native environments are loosely coupled systems that are often built using containers, service meshes, and microservices. These resources communicate with each other via API, and are typically managed themselves via declarative APIs. These techniques enable systems that are resilient, manageable, and observable.

API connectivity emphasizes the use of cloud-native technologies, and in particular, an API-first approach to managing infrastructure and the API lifecycle. This is particularly important for automating work at scale using continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) practices. CI/CD helps you manage APIs and applications across their entire lifecycle – writing, delivering, and updating – through automation. It also helps “shift security left” by integrating and embedding security policies early on, and then be applied to future APIs, enabling security to be part of the entire development process, all the way to production.

To learn more, read Shifting Security Tools Left for Safer Apps on our blog.

What is the Difference between API Connectivity and an API-Led Connectivity Strategy?

API-led connectivity is a specific architectural approach to digital transformation and the implementation of an organization’s overall API strategy. It uses a tiered approach to classify an organization’s APIs by function:

  • System APIs are used to fetch raw data from a system of record and expose it to an upstream API in a reliable way
  • Process APIs orchestrate multiple downstream system APIs to aggregate the data and apply business logic to it
  • Experience APIs enable user-facing interactions and can be reused by across mobile and web applications

API connectivity is a comprehensive approach to governing and operating APIs in cloud-native environments, regardless of the architectural pattern you use to classify them.

How Can NGINX Help?

API Connectivity Manager, part of F5 NGINX Management Suite, was designed with the API developer experience at its core. With API Connectivity Manager, infrastructure teams can deploy high performance API gateways and developer portals. And developers can rapidly publish and manage APIs and documentation or discover and onboard APIs into applications.

api connectivity diagram

API Connectivity Manager is a key part of the NGINX Secure API Connectivity solution, which provides these benefits:

  • Scalability – Deliver uncompromised performance, reliability, and security with NGINX Plus as an API gateway
  • Observability – Monitor API traffic across teams and environments to identify configuration errors and security threats
  • Governance – Ensure consistent oversight while empowering API developers to manage their APIs with fine-grained controls
  • Security – Defend APIs against common and advanced threats with out-of-the-box protection against the OWASP API Security Top 10

Start a 30-day free trial of NGINX Management Suite, which includes API Connectivity Manager and Instance Manager.