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Open APIs Are the New Open Source

By Jay Lyman LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Feb 14, 2012 5:00 AM PT

We've seen the rise of open source software in the enterprise and also beyond the IT industry, but the real keys to openness and its advantages in today's technology world -- where efficient use of cloud computing and supporting services are paramount -- exist in open application programming interfaces, or APIs.

Open APIs Are the New Open Source

Open source software continues to be a critical part of software development, systems administration, IT operations and more, but much of the action in leveraging modern cloud computing and services-based infrastructures centers on APIs. Open APIs are the new open source.

Open source, open standards, open clouds, and particularly open data continue to serve as pillars of modern IT openness, but APIs have quickly emerged as equally if not more critical. Here's why: Many organizations may inquire or investigate open source software as they set about leveraging cloud computing infrastructure, services and practices, but they soon find that they are dealing much more with APIs than with source code. Both customers and providers indicate an initial interest in open source and source code, but they soon find the APIs to be the more appropriate point of interface and integration.

Open-API Buzz

Several other trends are playing into this shift -- which does not negate advantages of open source, but rather seems merely to overshadow them in many instances today. Environments and strategies are defined by cloud computing, services and devops -- the confluence of application development and deployment via IT operations.

Devops is a driver of API importance, given it is often a common meeting place among both software developers and system administrators. Another trend driving open API significance is polyglot programming, whereby several different languages and frameworks, including Java, HTML5, node.js, PHP, Python, Ruby, Scala, Erlang and many other languages are the basis for applications, whether mobile, Web, enterprise, consumer or all of the above. Polyglot programming is also apparent in today's PaaS offerings, which continue to broaden their language support.

We also see services and architectures such as SOAP, REST and JSON contributing to an API-centric world, given they all hinge to some extent on API integration. Another trend that increases the importance of open APIs is the data deluge and so-called "big data," which marks an explosion in both the sources of data and technology for storage and management of it. Here, open source continues to play a significant role with open source MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, NoSQL databases, memcached, Hadoop, Cassandra and other technologies increasingly in the mix. Open data and open APIs for handling and managing data are also rising in prominence.

What's more, it seems open APIs are getting some of the same buzz and consideration from decision-makers that marked the rise of open source software a decade ago. When it comes down to what many large customers and users are trying to do, whether enterprises or service providers, open APIs are crucial.

'Open Enough'

There was a time 10 years ago or so when open source was "good enough" -- that is, it served as a viable, often lower-cost, lower-hassle alternative to the proprietary software of the day. Today, all software is generally more open, and I believe we've reached a point when non-open source software is often "open enough." The prime examples are cloud APIs from Amazon, which are neither open source nor open standards, necessarily, but are readily and widely available and tend to serve as the de facto standards of the day, including for open source plays on top, such as Eucalyptus. The fact is, Amazon Web Services APIs are open enough to facilitate the creation of integrations, connections and services despite the fact the underlying code is not open source.

Connections to open source continue to be critical, and it appears open source code has become a standard expectation among customers, many of whom are finding out that openness in APIs is just as important. This is also happening as we see the drivers of open source software shift from cost savings and flexibility innovation, performance and ROI. It turns out that, indeed, openness matters -- and the growing significance of and respect for open APIs also serve as further validation of open source software methodology.

LinuxInsider columnist Jay Lyman is a senior analyst for 451 Research, covering open source software and focusing primarily on Linux operating systems and vendors, open source software in the enterprise, application development, systems management and cloud computing. Lyman has been a speaker at numerous industry events, including the Open Source Business Conference, OSCON, Linux Plumber's Conference and Open Source World/Linux World, on topics such as Linux and open source in cloud computing, mobile software, and the impact of economic conditions and customer perspectives on open source. Follow his blog here.

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