In an effort to remain competitive, most organizations are prioritizing digital transformation to scale. Just last year, achieving this competitive edge meant businesses were investing an average of $23.6 million on Application Programming Interface (API) programs deployed across cloud, on‑premises, and edge environments. According to F5’s calculations, the number of public and private APIs today is approaching 200 million, and by 2030, we’ll see a whopping 1.7 billion active APIs. Effectively managing and controlling these APIs is becoming more complex than ever before — leading to an alarming problem known as API sprawl.

As you continue to digitally transform your business, the operational complexities will multiply, and so too will the desire for more APIs to help drive execution and growth. However, leaving your APIs to grow unattended will quickly turn useful tools into a security and operational nightmare for your business.

Because this surge in API usage often leads to a cascading effect of unforeseen issues — misconfiguration-induced outages, decreased developer productivity, and slower agility to name a few — not easily measurable until it’s too late, companies are now asking: “how can I effectively fight this API sprawl threat?”

To help you address this issue, here’s a look at what causes API sprawl and five ways you can stop it from compromising your organization’s success.

What Causes API Sprawl?

By definition, API sprawl is a high volume of different APIs, spread over many locations and managed by various teams. As a result, there are APIs that still lurk in the background, occupying space despite being abandoned (we’ll call these Zombie APIs.) Not only is this a significant vulnerability to your network, but API sprawl can lead to a mismatch in design and functionality as different teams create their APIs based on personal preferences. So what causes sprawl to happen?

Microservices Architecture Rising in Popularity

Moving away from the monolithic architecture means greater flexibility, easier maintenance and better scalability. However, having an isolation of services is a double-edge sword, as siloed teams for each API are less likely to share best practices or coordinate on API design. This lack of communication leads to developing separate APIs — adding to the sprawl.

A Lack of Global Standards

Without a global API standardization, developers often create multiple APIs to accomplish one task — sometimes even the same job. Dealing with multiple versions and integrating them is a major challenge, especially if the APIs aren’t configured to work together.

The Rise of New Technologies

The emergence of new technology trends causes even more APIs to be created. Businesses may even have their operations hosted through multiple, onsite or cloud-based environments. In the event of a hybrid setup, APIs could become disorganized and hard to keep tabs on.

The Need for Speed

With the rise of DevOps and continuous integration development, dev teams are pressured to churn out new features frequently, making teams less likely to thoroughly examine APIs that may already exist or are in development. This need to deliver quickly leads to lack of central authority, poor documentation of API functionality and no clear source of truth.

How To Prevent API Sprawl?

1. Put an API Governance Plan in Place

Keep your APIs from getting out of control by having effective tooling that allows you to manage your APIs all in one place. You’ll have a much easier time finding, connecting and securing your APIs.

With an API governance plan, you’ll also be able to clearly visualize your API architecture and hierarchies, making it possible for your teams to create enterprise-wide policies to ensure there is API consistency throughout the business. 

2. Use a Single Source for API Discovery

Without a source of truth, your developers may have difficulty locating APIs and understanding how they work. As an example, certain microservices may possess individual APIs that other teams are unaware of since they are not using said microservices. Without clarity, those teams might attempt to build their own APIs.

A centralized platform where all the APIs are kept in one place, and ready to be used, makes managing them simpler — as well as avoiding shadow APIs or redundant zombie APIs.

3. Use Proper Versioning and Documentation

Due to the ever changing nature APIs go through during development, it’s important to have a well-defined process in place that accounts for 2 things. First, keep documentation up-to-date as changes are made to the API. Your team won’t be as lost nor tempted to create yet more APIs if they understand in detail what is already available.

Second, adapt API versioning to your business. Most APIs outgrow their original scope, or require bug fixes, so you’re likely to see changes in functionality of the system your API is built on. As such, you’ll want to version APIs, refresh documentation to reflect new versions, and have a place where developers can easily access and manage all versions of the API.

4. Track API metrics

Figuring out the location and setup of APIs is one of the biggest obstacles for businesses. If an enterprise is dealing with excessive API distribution, it would no doubt require a committed team of developers to manage them all. But with a merged view of API traffic across various settings, it’s easier to monitor API traffic and configurations and detect any potential performance or security issues.

5. Apply API Security at Scale

In 2020, 91% of businesses suffered from an API security breach. The security risk to your company increases with every new API endpoint that is added. As soon as an API goes online, it becomes a potential pathway for hackers to access sensitive data. Security cannot be a luxury. You must take it into consideration throughout the entire process, from specification to deployment, rather than exist as an add-on feature.

Final Thoughts

API sprawl can be a difficult hurdle to manage, but by having the correct strategy and tools in place, you can turn your complex API system back into an asset. Not to mention, you’ll be able to outreach your competition.

If you want to take the hassle out of managing multiple APIs and give speed and flexibility back to your developers, reach out to us here.