Raising the Serverless Bar: Infrastructure APIs Unleash More Value for Enterprises
If you scan headlines today, you’ll see a mix of corporate cost-saving measures interspersed with unprecedented technological innovation. The message is clear: enterprises want to do more with less, becoming more efficient while accelerating the pace of product innovation.
But the infrastructure powering these applications — like databases and networks — requires constant maintenance as applications scale to more users and across regions. This has led enterprises to seek out solutions that push abstractions higher and remove operational requirements from their teams; spurring the rise of serverless solutions.
At face value, serverless means introducing abstractions that remove servers from the application architecture — but these serverless abstractions can fly at different altitudes. On the lower end of the serverless spectrum are primitive, general-purpose offerings that accept artifacts packaged in standard formats (eg. AMI, container image) and handle provisioning and orchestration. These services get operators out of the business of managing and scaling fleets of servers, but they still need to address other issues like cold starts, service-to-service communication, and state management.
Higher on the spectrum are specialized APIs that allow consumers to treat everything below it as a black box, focusing solely on how their application consumes the API — such as Stripe and Twilio. APIs are proven, lightweight contracts that applications can interact with to utilize external functionality such as search, security, and even storage. Unlike lower-level infrastructure offerings, a new class of infrastructure APIs is set to redefine how enterprises build, manage, and scale their applications.
Can Lightweight APIs Tackle the Infrastructure Behemoth?
It’s no secret that infrastructure is the unglamorous backbone every enterprise relies upon to run its applications. Storage, computing, networking, and related functions are critical, but not where enterprises or developers want to spend their valuable time or resources. Ideally, infrastructure would be humming in the background, creating zero fuss for development teams. But that’s not the case today.
Infrastructure today is seen as too big and risky to modernize. Missteps can result in business disruptions like application downtime, security breaches, and reputational damage, among other serious repercussions. The question is, how can enterprises tame the infrastructure behemoth?
With APIs they don’t have to.
Enterprise Applications Are Already Running on APIs
APIs abstract away the coding and operational requirements needed to build functionalities within applications, outsourcing the heavy lifting of many critical services and functions. Today, enterprises rely on APIs to deliver specialized capabilities to power their own applications. APIs have become critical to operations – 97% of enterprise leaders believe that APIs are essential for survival.
It’s likely that you know of — or even use — these APIs today. Auth0 has become a dominant player in cybersecurity for its ability to deliver application authentication and authorization, allowing robust sign-on and security capabilities. Algolia offers powerful search capabilities within an enterprise’s data without any coding requirements. These companies, as well as others like Twilio and Stripe, have forever changed how enterprises build and improve their applications without the burden otherwise required to build out and manage each capability.
Unlocking the General Purpose Database as an API
As enterprises demand higher levels of abstraction to optimize spend and maximize application development, they’re looking at serverless databases that remove the most complexity — those that expose core functionality as an API.
We’ve seen this in the success of Amazon Web Services‘ DynamoDB; a prime example of infrastructure APIs at work, delivering storage-as-an-API. The DynamoDB API creates predictable performance for basic CRUD operations over data to deliver strong application performance.
However, the API requires compromises on ACID guarantees and punts on powerful transaction support that comes with a more robust database offering. There is nothing fundamental about an API that forces this set of tradeoffs, and next-generation database services like Fauna now offer all of the functionality that you would expect from a state-of-the-art database as an API.
While serverless has generated much buzz for eliminating physical hardware management, enterprises are looking to stretch this abstraction even further — with all signs pointing to APIs. Widely embraced and trusted, APIs have become increasingly powerful, and infrastructure APIs will continue to improve, abstracting away not only the physicality of infrastructure but also its associated complexity.
In the coming years, infrastructure APIs will become the de facto standard among agile enterprises looking to eliminate the management of physical hardware, but also eliminate complex operations entirely. A new class of general-purpose infrastructure APIs is set to emerge in the coming years, unleashing a new era of innovation driven by new functionalities, seamless modernization, and optimized developer productivity.