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SOLUTION OVERVIEW

API Management Best Practices and Solutions

Keep developers in the driver’s seat with fast, safe, and scalable API gateway and management solutions from F5

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APIs are a fundamental building block of cloud-native and containerized application development. By enabling operational teams to work collectively, APIs can speed up time-to-market for application development and help you deliver better user experiences than your competitors. On the flipside, the use of APIs has decentralized the structure of applications. This makes API design, publishing, and management tougher, which in turn creates a complex and risk-prone management challenge. Without automated and high-performance traffic and policy controls, API growth and complexity will slow down developer agility.

F5 offers a comprehensive solution to safely manage APIs across any data center or cloud using a simple, fast, and scalable architecture. This helps improve time-to-market by enabling automation of API deployments and management, while also protecting against API-specific threats. F5 provides cloud-native API management, high-performance API gateways, and security controls all in one solution, reducing tool sprawl and architectural complexity.

Key Benefits

API-centric security

Protection against common and advanced API-specific vulnerabilities that API gateways can’t deliver

Cloud-native microservice API architectures

Seamless integration into virtually any deployment design or architecture—edge proxy, Kubernetes, Ingress gateways, serverless, and more

Integrated API delivery solutions

Improved operational efficiency with integrated security and gateway

DevOps/AppDev-friendly

Security, automation, and configuration management as agile as your DevOps teams, speeding up time-to-market at a reduced cost

Understanding the Challenges of Enterprise API Management

Application development moves swiftly and innovation is continually changing the face of our interactions. Because of distributed container complexities, this emphasis on speed sometimes leads to resistance to API management and enforcement of security and infrastructure controls. Unfortunately, because APIs are increasingly consumed by microservice-to-microservice data exchange, they are becoming a potential vulnerability that could expose sensitive data. This means that all API endpoints should have at least a minimum degree of standardized risk, configuration, and policy enforcement; however, because API publishing automation removes traditional elements of user interaction and oversight, the same trends making APIs more valuable are also making them more vulnerable.

Most API gateways lack adequate controls for management at scale

API gateways are typically designed to manage publishing of APIs to a platform or to microservice clusters; ease of use and automation are the primary drivers for adoption because it’s difficult to scale API interconnectivity to meet customer traffic demands as your application portfolio grows while remaining platform agnostic. This explains why API misconfigurations and security lapses have been the cause of some of the highest-profile API data breaches.

DevOps is responsible for increasing numbers of automation pipelines, each requiring different tools to meet developer and application requirements. These scenarios create disconnected API traffic patterns and management instances, further complicated by disconnected observability solutions.  Unfortunately, it is still common for development and DevOps teams to be measured on their release frequency—but not their release security.

The result is enterprise API growth management failures at scale, creating new and unintended risk and exposure from unauthorized API usage—some of the most common threats according to OWASP’s API Security Top 10.

APIs also encounter performance issues when managing traffic at scale. A 50–100 millisecond transaction delay could be acceptable for an application’s initial rollout, but when multiplied across hundreds or thousands of microservices scaling to meet customer demand, those delays add up and slow the entire application chain. The result? Poor performance and failed customer expectations.

Automating API endpoint access, configuration, and security across the enterprise application portfolio, from initial development to production deployment, will allow DevOps to address performance and potential vulnerabilities at scale so they can focus on other automation pipeline issues. 

Inconsistent controls in microservice API environments

Cloud-native applications are increasingly distributed and decentralized by design, relying on hundreds, if not thousands, of API-based endpoints, with millions of transactions as the primary source of traffic. Recent F5 Labs research shows that the number of API security incidents is growing every year and that the most frequent causes of API incidents in the last two years are related to low levels of security maturity, often caused by tool sprawl.

When different development teams work on different parts of distributed applications across multiple platforms, it creates API management complexity that results in insecure and poorly performing applications. Problems can arise from deployment failures, degraded performance, or malicious access to sensitive traffic, and it’s difficult to remediate, much less pinpoint, the cause. Reducing this complexity at scale reduces risk and provides a consistent set of configuration, performance, and security policies optimized around your business goals. Providing DevOps a standard set of tools to automate the right controls into API development and management processes allows your applications to grow alongside your business.

Solution

Enterprises need to maintain and evolve their traditional APIs, while simultaneously developing new ones using cloud-native microservice architectures. These can be delivered either with bare metal private systems, from the cloud, or through multi-cloud transit solutions. APIs are difficult to categorize as they are used in delivering a variety of user experiences, each one potentially requiring a different set of development, publishing, and security controls. The flexibility of F5 NGINX solutions can address multiple different use cases or architectural patterns to meet the requirements of any dev team.

In their Cloud Market Trend Report, Futuriom reports “APIs have been a crucial element of data center and SD-WAN virtualization, and they will become increasingly important to connect multi-cloud networks.”

Common API Management and Publishing Use Cases

In all of the solutions outlined below, F5 NGINX Management Suite is used for API management functions such as publishing the APIs, setting up authentication and authorization, and using the API gateway offered in F5 NGINX Plus to form the data path. Security controls are addressed based on the security requirements of the data and API delivery platform.

1.      APIs for highly regulated business

Business APIs that involve the exchange of sensitive or regulated information may require management, reporting, and security controls to allow compliance with additional regulations or industry mandates. For example, applications delivering protected health information or sensitive financial information must meet industry-specific standards. Policy enforcement, auditable role-based access control, analytics, and payload inspection at scale become critical mechanisms for managing and protecting this type of API.

Combining industry-leading advanced web application firewall (WAF) technology for application interfaces with F5 NGINX Plus API Gateway and F5 NGINX App Protect WAF provides superior perimeter, API, and microservice protection for mission critical availability and performance.

2.      Multi-cloud distributed APIs

Mobile apps that serve users around the world need geo-distributed backends to provide low-latency API responses. Other application services may also need to be distributed, moving high transaction workloads closer to consumers or to data for improved performance. To optimize response time, you’ll need a distributed platform to orchestrate delivery of API endpoints from multiple locations to serve your user base. 

F5 NGINX Plus offers platform-agnostic API gateway, load balancing, and security features. Deployed with the F5 NGINX Management Suite API Connectivity Manager module, it provides DevOps and AppDev teams performant, automated, and secure API publishing at scale.

To provide advanced multi-cloud connectivity for your distributed environments, F5 Distributed Cloud multi-cloud networking solutions separate NetOps-targeted network infrastructure challenges from application deployment. DevOps can stop worrying about IP address overlap and complex routing configurations, and instead focus on delivering dev-ready infrastructure at a moment’s notice. Take a test drive of F5’s Distributed Cloud Services and NGINX deployment use cases to solve your multi-cloud challenges.

3.      API workloads in Kubernetes

F5 NGINX Ingress Controller is an all-in-one load balancer, cache, API gateway, and WAF for microservices in Kubernetes. Combined with the always-free F5 NGINX Service Mesh, DevOps is in control of API development and deployment. NGINX Ingress Controller for NGINX Plus fully integrates with NGINX App Protect in a single, easy-to-deploy configuration, reducing the cost and complexity of production-grade applications. NGINX Service Mesh is used to provide east-west visibility and mTLS-based security for workloads.

NGINX Ingress Controller for NGINX Plus integrates with NGINX Service Mesh for a unified data plane with production‑grade security, functionality, and scale. Lightweight and focused on Layer 7 application traffic management within clusters, NGINX Service Mesh is non‑intrusive, allowing the rest of your tech stack to perform without complications, the way it should be.

Conclusion

F5’s solutions deliver, manage, and secure APIs and the infrastructure used to host them, regardless of your platform or automation architecture. F5 provides strong protection against bots and common and advanced API exploits, with DevOps integration for publishing and visibility into API performance. Combined, these solutions help you reach your goal of application portability anywhere you deploy, bringing workloads closer to your customers.

Give your dev and ops teams the agility necessary to support the business now by providing them the freedom to use the right environment for the job—whether cloud-hosted or on-premises—and the versatility to support the business in the future, with architecture portability that moves when you move.

Learn more with the F5 NGINX Real-Time API Handbook

Key Features

API definition and publication—define APIs using an intuitive interface
  • Define base path and backend services
  • Route APIs to appropriate backend services
  • Manage versioning of APIs
  • Import APIs that follow OpenAPI standards
  • Publish APIs to one or more environments, such as production or staging
  • Configure API gateways
  • Configure security policies
  • Deploy and run in microservice architectures
Rate limiting—mitigate DDoS attacks and protect your applications by setting rate limits
  • Specify the maximum request rate for each client, consumer, or resource
  • Protect API endpoints and ensure SLAs for API consumers
  • Define multiple rate-limiting policies
Real-time monitoring and alerting—get critical insights into API performance
  • Graphs of key metrics such as latency and response duration
  • Gateway-specific metrics such as requests per second, active connections, and bandwidth usage
  • Alerts on more than 100 metrics such as CPU usage, 4xx/5xx errors, and health check failures, based on predefined thresholds
  • Easy integration with any monitoring tool of your choice using REST API
Authentication and authorization
  • Validate JSON Web Tokens (JWTs)
  • Create and manage API keys for consumers
  • Import API keys from external systems
  • Share with API consumers
  • Apply policies to groups of API clients
Dashboards—monitor and troubleshoot API gateways quickly
  • An overview dashboard that aggregates metrics across API gateways
  • An application health score that measures successful requests and timely responses
  • Customizable dashboards to monitor metrics specific to your environment

Next Steps

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