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Achieving API Optimisation in Azure

  • Technical
  • Thought Leadership

Key Takeaways: 

  • Azure API Management (APIM) offers powerful features and benefits for effective API management. 
  • Proper API design and security measures are crucial for optimal performance. 
  • Monitoring API usage data and utilising analytics can help identify bottlenecks and improve performance. 
  • Azure APIM simplifies API development and provides a user-friendly developer portal. 
  • Effective API versioning and lifecycle management are essential for seamless transitions and updates. 

Designing Effective APIs in Azure API Management 

As part of a platform upgrade initiative, a leading seafood company sought our assistance in implementing integration solutions to enable seamless interaction with a diverse range of stakeholders, including suppliers, distributors, customers, and their supply chain ERP, finance, and payroll systems.  

In response, we have designed and implemented Azure API Management (APIM) as an integral component of their platform upgrade strategy. Through APIM, the company gained the capability to design and manage effective APIs, streamlining interactions with stakeholders.  

API Design Best Practices were implemented for this client through a structured approach aimed at optimising usability, maintainability, and scalability. Firstly, a thorough analysis of the client’s business requirements and stakeholder needs was conducted to ensure alignment with API design goals. Following this, a RESTful design approach was adopted to promote simplicity, flexibility, and interoperability. Standardisation of resource naming conventions, HTTP methods, and error handling ensured consistency across APIs.  

Additionally, clear, and concise documentation was provided to facilitate easy adoption and understanding of APIs by developers. Versioning strategies were implemented to support backward compatibility and enable seamless evolution of APIs over time. Security considerations such as authentication, authorisation, and encryption were integrated into the design to protect sensitive data and ensure compliance with regulatory standards. Continuous monitoring and feedback mechanisms were established to iterate and refine API designs based on usage patterns and stakeholder feedback, thereby optimising overall effectiveness and user satisfaction. 

API Design Best Practices 

Effective API design is crucial for ensuring optimal functionality and developer experience. By following best practices, you can create APIs that are easy to understand, maintain, and consume. Here are some key API design best practices: 

  • Consistency: Maintain consistency across your API by adhering to standardised naming conventions, resource structures, and response formats. 
  • Versioning: Using versioning techniques allows you to introduce changes without impacting existing API consumers. It also ensures backward compatibility and smooth transitions. 
  • Resource-Oriented: Follow a resource-oriented approach, treating each API endpoint as a resource that can be manipulated through standard HTTP methods. 
  • Clear Documentation: Provide comprehensive documentation that explains the functionality, input/output parameters, and any additional considerations for each API endpoint. 
  • Error Handling: Implement proper error handling mechanisms, including informative error messages and appropriate HTTP status codes, to guide developers in troubleshooting and debugging. 
  • Authentication and Authorisation: Design APIs to enforce secure authentication and authorisation measures, such as OAuth or API keys, to protect sensitive data and ensure proper access control. 

RESTful APIs in Azure APIM 

RESTful APIs conform to a set of architectural principles and constraints, enabling them to leverage the HTTP protocol for communication. Key features of RESTful APIs in Azure APIM include: 

  1. Resource URI and Methods: RESTful APIs in Azure APIM follow the standard HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, PATCH, and DELETE for performing CRUD operations on resources identified by unique URIs. 
  2. Status Codes: HTTP status codes are utilised to indicate the outcome of API requests, providing valuable information to API consumers about the success or failure of their actions. 
  3. Representational State Transfer: RESTful APIs in Azure APIM embrace the concept of representing resources and their state transitions through the exchange of lightweight, easily consumable representations, usually in JSON or XML formats. 

Leveraging Azure APIM for Authentication and Authorisation

Effective authentication and authorisation are paramount concerns for all the clients across diverse sectors, as they grapple with challenges related to securing access to their APIs, user identity management, safeguarding critical data, and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements. Inadequate authentication and authorisation mechanisms expose these clients to risks such as unauthorised access, data breaches, and compliance violations, necessitating a solution to enhance security while maintaining seamless user experiences. 

In this section, we will explore the authentication methods and authorisation policies offered by Azure APIM, empowering you to build a secure API ecosystem. 

API Authentication

Authentication is the process of verifying the identity of a user or application attempting to access an API. Azure APIM supports various authentication mechanisms, allowing you to choose the method that best aligns with your security requirements: 

  1. API Key Authentication: By assigning unique API keys to individual developers or applications, you can control access to specific APIs and track usage. 
  2. OAuth 2.0: Azure APIM acts as an OAuth 2.0 authorisation server, enabling you to protect your APIs using tokens issued by Azure Active Directory (AAD) or other identity providers.
  3. Client Certificate Authentication: To ensure secure communication between clients and APIs, Azure APIM supports client certificate authentication, validating the authenticity of the client’s certificate during the SSL handshake. 

Authorisation Policies

Once authentication is complete, authorisation policies play a vital role in determining which actions a user or application can perform within your API ecosystem. Azure APIM offers flexible authorisation policies, and you can define them at different scopes: 

  • Global Level: Apply authorisation policies at the global level to enforce security policies across all APIs in your Azure APIM instance. 
  • API Level: Customise authorisation policies for individual APIs, granting or denying access based on different criteria such as user roles or attributes. 
  • Operation Level: Fine-tune authorisation policies at the operation level, allowing you to specify granular access control based on specific API actions. 

For all clients, we have standardised the implementation of Azure API Management (APIM) for authentication and authorisation. This involved integrating APIM with Azure Active Directory (AAD) to establish a centralised identity management system. By configuring policy-driven access controls within APIM, we enforced consistent authentication protocols and fine-grained authorisation rules across all client domains. 

Additionally, we conduct thorough assessments of each client’s security requirements and regulatory compliance needs to tailor APIM configurations accordingly. This ensures that APIM’s authentication and authorisation mechanisms align with each client’s specific use cases and industry standards. 

Implementing Rate Limiting and Throttling with Azure APIM 

A leading banking institution with which I have experience building integration solutions, encountered challenges in managing access to its banking APIs and ensuring security and stability for its digital services. The existing methods for controlling API usage lack centralised management, leaving systems vulnerable to excessive usage, abuse, and security threats. Inconsistent access control policies hindered the protection of sensitive customer data and compliance with regulatory requirements, while inefficient API traffic management compromises performance.  

Implementing rate limiting and throttling with Azure API Management (APIM) offered this bank a comprehensive solution. This approach enabled the client to effectively manage API usage, prevent overload, and maintain optimal performance while safeguarding sensitive financial information, ensuring compliance, and delivering uninterrupted digital banking services to its customers. Additionally, Azure APIM’s monitoring, and analytics capabilities enabled this bank to gain insights into API usage patterns, identify potential security threats, and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements, ultimately safeguarding sensitive financial information and enhancing customer trust. 

Rate limiting in Azure APIM allows you to set limits on how many requests can be made to an API within a specific time frame to prevent sudden spikes in traffic and protect your backend systems from being overwhelmed. Throttling policies, on the other hand, enable you to control the rate at which requests are processed, ensuring a smooth and consistent flow of API operations. 

To help you effectively implement rate limiting and throttling in Azure APIM, here are some techniques and policies you can leverage: 

  1. Concurrent Calls Throttling: Set limits on the number of concurrent calls to an API to prevent system overload. 
  2. Request Quota Throttling: Define the maximum number of requests allowed within a specific time period. 
  3. Duration Throttling: Control the duration of throttling for specific clients or user groups. 
  4. Custom Throttling Rules: Create customised throttling rules based on specific criteria, such as client profiles or API endpoints. 

        Let’s take a look at an example of a rate limiting and throttling policy in Azure APIM (enforcing a rate limit of 1000 calls per 60 seconds): 

        <rate-limit calls=”1000″ renewal-period=”60″ />


        Enhancing API Monitoring and Analytics with Azure APIM

        Despite implementing various digital banking solutions, one of the clients faced persistent challenges in maintaining optimal performance and reliability of their APIs. Frequent occurrences of downtime and sluggish response times hinder the seamless delivery of banking services to customers, leading to dissatisfaction, and potential loss of business. 

        By leveraging insights using APIM Monitoring and Analytics, we were able to derive the usage patterns and then strategically allocated resources, resulting in optimised performance and heightened customer contentment. Monitoring metrics such as response time and error rates enabled the bank to swiftly identify and resolve performance bottlenecks, ensuring seamless operations and improved service delivery.  

        With Azure APIM, you can track API usage metrics, monitor response times, and identify outliers to proactively address potential performance issues. By leveraging the analytics features of Azure APIM, you can gain a comprehensive understanding of your API traffic, allowing you to fine-tune API performance and enhance overall user experience. 

        Key Features of Azure APIM Monitoring and Analytics: 

        • Real-time API usage monitoring 
        • Response time tracking and analysis. 
        • Usage pattern identification 
        • Error rate monitoring 
        • Performance optimisation recommendations 

        With customisable dashboards and reports, Azure APIM allows you to visualise API usage trends, diagnose problems, and measure the impact of performance optimisations. This data-driven approach enables you to implement targeted improvements that result in enhanced API performance, reduced latency, and improved customer satisfaction. 

        Streamlining API development with Azure APIM 

        In this section, we will explain how Azure APIM simplifies the process of developing APIs and provides a user-friendly developer portal. 

        User-Friendly Developer Portal 

        Azure APIM offers a user-friendly developer portal where developers can easily access and navigate API specifications. The developer portal provides a centralised hub for developers to explore APIs, access specifications, and learn about the available resources. 

        Seamless Collaboration 

        Azure APIM’s streamlined approach to API development and its user-friendly developer portal empower developers to fully leverage APIs and accelerate their development process. By simplifying the documentation workflow and enabling seamless collaboration, Azure APIM enhances the overall developer experience and drives successful API integration. 

        Leveraging Azure APIM for API Versioning and Lifecycle Management

        During the API lifecycle management process, Azure APIM provides a range of features to help you streamline the management of APIs from creation to deprecation: 

        1. API Deprecation: Azure APIM allows you to deprecate older API versions in a controlled manner while providing clear communication to developers and consumers.  
        2. API Versioning Policies: You can define policies within Azure APIM to handle the routing and mapping of API requests to specific versions.  
        3. Version-Based Analytics: Azure APIM provides comprehensive analytics and reporting capabilities for each API version.  

            By leveraging Azure APIM for API versioning and lifecycle management, you can effectively manage the evolution of your APIs, ensuring compatibility, smooth transitions, and minimised disruption for developers and consumers. 

            We have collaborated with a client running a global e-commerce platform that regularly introduced new features and improvements to remain competitive. However, these updates occasionally led to compatibility issues with existing client applications, resulting in disruptions and user frustration. Implementing API versioning emerged as a crucial strategy for our client. It allowed them to strike a balance between innovation and stability, fostering strong relationships with their clients. This approach empowered them to evolve their platform gradually, mitigating disruptions and optimising the value delivered to end-users. 

            Optimising API Performance with Azure APIM 

            Optimising API performance is a critical design aspect that we recommend and implement for all the clients, regardless of industry or specific use case. Many organisations face challenges such as inconsistent response times, scalability issues, and potential reliability concerns with their APIs. These issues impact user experience, hinder business growth, and pose risks to overall operations, highlighting the need for a solution to enhance API performance while ensuring reliability and scalability. 

            Ensuring optimal API performance is important for delivering a seamless experience to consumers. In this section, we will explore various techniques and strategies we have implemented for various clients for optimising the performance of the APIs using Azure API Management (Azure APIM).  

            Performance Optimisation Techniques 

            When it comes to API performance optimisation, there are several key areas to focus on: 

            1. Minimising network latency: By reducing the round-trip time through techniques such as content delivery networks (CDNs) and edge caching, you can significantly improve performance.  
            2. Optimising code and resource usage: Fine-tuning your API code and minimising resource-intensive operations can greatly enhance performance.  
            3. Scaling and load balancing: Implementing load balancing mechanisms and horizontal scaling techniques can help distribute the workload and ensure optimal performance, even during peak usage periods. 

                Caching in Azure APIM 

                Azure APIM offers robust caching capabilities that can be leveraged to reduce the load on backend services and minimise response times. With Azure APIM, you can configure caching at various levels: 

                • Output caching: By caching the responses from your APIs, you can reduce the processing time required for subsequent identical requests, resulting in improved performance for consumers. 
                • Authorisation caching: Azure APIM can cache authorisation tokens to minimise the need for repeated authentication calls, further enhancing performance. 

                APIM also provides control over cache expiration policies, allowing you to fine-tune caching behaviour to suit your specific requirements and maintain data integrity. 

                Maximising Security and Compliance with Azure APIM 

                Consider a financial services platform implementing API security and compliance best practices. By employing robust encryption protocols and secure transmission channels, sensitive financial data is safeguarded against unauthorised access and interception. Compliance with industry regulations such as PCI-DSS and GDPR ensures that user privacy and data protection standards are met, fostering trust and confidence among clients and regulatory bodies.  

                Thorough documentation and regular security audits aid in identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities, mitigating risks of data breaches and compliance violations. Real-time monitoring and logging of API activities enable prompt detection and response to security incidents, ensuring timely mitigation measures are implemented.  

                API Security Best Practices 

                Implementing robust security measures is crucial to protect your APIs from unauthorised access and data breaches. Azure APIM allows you to apply the following API security best practices: 

                • Use secure and unique API keys for authentication. 
                • Implement OAuth 2.0 authentication for enhanced security. 
                • Implement access control policies to restrict API access based on user roles. 
                • Regularly monitor and audit API usage to detect and mitigate potential security threats. 

                Compliance in Azure APIM 

                Security and compliance go hand in hand when it comes to API management. Azure APIM provides features that help you maintain compliance with industry regulations and standards. These include: 

                • Data protection: Azure APIM ensures the secure storage and transmission of sensitive data, helping you comply with data protection regulations such as GDPR. 
                • API versioning and deprecation: Azure APIM enables smooth API versioning and deprecation processes, allowing you to adhere to industry-standard practices while ensuring backward compatibility. 
                • Access control: Azure APIM offers granular access control capabilities, allowing you to define fine-grained policies for API access and authorisation, ensuring compliance with industry-specific regulations. 

                Ultimately, adherence to API security and compliance best practices strengthens the platform’s resilience against cyber threats, safeguards client assets, and preserves regulatory adherence, bolstering trust and loyalty among clients and stakeholders. 

                Adaptiv’s Expertise

                Adaptiv has successfully collaborated with a diverse range of clients to develop robust integration solutions using Azure API Management (APIM). For a market leader in the seafood industry, we facilitated seamless communication between various systems, improving data flow and operational efficiency For some of the sizable universities in New Zealand, we have tailored integration solutions to connect disparate databases and streamline information sharing across departments. Large farming organisations have benefited from APIM‘s capabilities in orchestrating data exchange between management tools and stakeholders. Our commitment to understanding the unique challenges of each industry has resulted in tailored APIM solutions that drive innovation and efficiency for our clients. 

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