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Explore the Application Network

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain the challenges with integration.
  • Explain what an application network is.
  • Explain how API-led connectivity is built into an application network.
  • Identify the best practices of implementing API-led connectivity with a multi-layered API architecture.

Why Is Integration so Challenging?

The  Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. As consumers, we are bombarded daily with new technologies that change the way we live. We’ve grown to expect powerful systems and functions. We expect them to work together seamlessly. And we expect businesses to deliver these functionalities faster than ever. 

To accomplish this, businesses are presented with a huge number of hyperspecialized tools to meet their customer's expectations. Let’s look at marketing as an example. Here are some of the companies that specialize in search engine optimization (SEO).

More than 120 company logos within the SEO category of the marketing technology landscape, according to chiefmartec.com.

Keep in mind that these companies are hyperspecialized. They offer services that focus solely on one domain: SEO. This is actually three levels down from marketing technology as a whole—first there’s marketing technology, next there’s content and experience, and finally you arrive at SEO. If we take a step back to the top level, we find that there are over 6,800 total companies specializing in marketing technologies as a whole as of 2018.

There are more than 6,800 marketing technologies within the marketing technology landscape according to chiefmartec.com.

That’s a lot of technology just for marketing! There are thousands more of these hyperspecialized offerings in Sales, Service, IoT, and so on. All these choices can create pain for established companies that have to rethink how they offer their services to customers. Here’s why.

  • Companies want to plug new technologies into their business as quickly as possible.
  • To get access to current assets and data, new technologies must be integrated with existing systems.
  • To integrate quickly, developers often set up point-to-point connections, where each system is connected to every other system, using plenty of custom code.

However, little thought is given to the overall architecture of integrations. Soon the next technology is brought in, more point-to-point integrations are built, and more complexity is added.

For many companies, this pattern can go on for years, maybe even decades, until there is a giant tangled mess at the core of the business. Point-to-point connections involve a lot of custom code and create tightly coupled systems. Tightly coupled systems come with dependencies, and minor changes to the integrations require complete rewrites of code. Over time, the system becomes harder and harder to maintain and improve. As a result, the business loses agility.

A diagram showing a collection of servers, apps, and cloud services connected in a tangle of integrations with no organization.The world has changed and consumer expectations have changed. The only thing left to change is the way organizations set up and integrate their systems to meet these expectations. By breaking up the tangled mess of integrations, businesses can once again be agile. They can incorporate new hyperspecialized technologies and quickly make changes to existing system integrations. This is where MuleSoft comes in.

API-led Connectivity to the Rescue

API-led connectivity is a methodical way of connecting applications, data, and devices through APIs. When the entire organization adopts API-led connectivity, developers and system architects are empowered to deliver applications and projects that avoid tightly coupled point-to-point integrations, in favor of:

  • Clear contracts between systems
  • Reusability
  • Discoverability
  • Visibility and security
  • Availability and resiliency

They are building the foundation of an application network—a seamless framework of applications, data, and devices connected by APIs. Businesses with application networks have a plug-and-play repository of assets that they can use in an agile way.

A diagram showing a collection of servers, apps, and cloud services connected by a network of organized APIs.

There are a lot of terms to keep track of! Here’s a handy table to help you keep some major concepts straight and top of mind.

API-led Connectivity
A methodical way to connect applications, data, and devices through reusable and purposeful APIs; the opposite of point-to-point integration.
Application Network
A network of applications, data, and devices connected by reusable APIs, each built with the principles of API-led connectivity.
Anypoint Platform
MuleSoft's platform that provides many tools to design, build, deploy, and operate the application network.

So, what does this all really mean? 

MuleSoft recommends building and organizing APIs into three broad categories.

  • System APIs
  • Process APIs
  • Experience APIs

Think of these three layers of APIs as an example architecture to implement API-led connectivity, where each layer serves a specific purpose.

The layers of APIs start with System APIs connecting to apps and services, Process APIs in the middle responsible for orchestration, and Experience APIs purpose-built for apps.

System APIs handle the minutiae of connecting to systems (think databases) such that users are insulated from any changes. 

Process APIs shape data across System APIs, with the intent of modeling business needs and processes, to break down technology silos and make data more consumable. 

Experience APIs reconfigure this data so that it is most easily consumed by its intended audience through apps and devices. APIs at this level are created with reusability in mind, without a dependence on the source systems from which that data originates.

In other words, the MuleSoft Anypoint Platform provides a suite of tools to create these different kinds of APIs designed to either unlock data from systems, compose data into processes, or deliver an experience. Rather than being tightly coupled, they are loosely coupled components that can be reused to connect different systems.

Now that you have a view of MuleSoft from 10,000 feet, let’s explore some of the tools that Anypoint Platform has to offer.

Resources:

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