MuleSoft’s ‘API-First’ Integration Speeds Mobile App Deployment
MuleSoft is bringing its ‘API-first’ approach to mobile app development. The just-released Anypoint Platform for Mobile, lets IT more quickly design, build, and launch apps that need integration with backend apps, data and services. IDN speaks with MuleSoft’s Ross Mason.
by Vance McCarthy
"APIs can cut the complexity of integration, and promote collaboration between front end and backend developers.”
MuleSoft is bringing its ‘API-first’ approach to mobile app development. The just-released Anypoint Platform for Mobile, lets IT more quickly design, build, and launch apps that need integration with backend apps, data and services.
Anypoint Platform for Mobile aims to let devs and even business users simplify how they connect mobile apps to data from external sources – using a point-and-click visual tooling, MuleSoft’s founder and vice president of product strategy Ross Mason told IDN.
This latest MuleSoft API offering aims to provide fast, easy, and governed access to any data from a wide range of backend systems, (including legacy apps and databases, and cloud-based SaaS applications.), he added. It is a mobile-optimized version of MuleSoft’s original Anypoint Platform for using APIs for core integration with on-premises and cloud-based resources.
“A successful mobile app needs to connect to and integrate with various endpoints,” Mason said. “But, the first thing mobile developers think about is the app itself. They spend nowhere near enough time thinking about how to deliver connectivity of that app to backend data and services,” Mason said. “APIs can cut the complexity of integration, and promote collaboration between front end and backend developers.”
The focus on APIs and easier integration in Anypoint Platform for Mobile is a sign of the growing need for successful mobile apps to be able to communicate with more and more backend data and systems, Mason added. “Gartner recently said in a report that a huge part – most, in fact -- of the cost or complexity of a mobile app can come from integration,” he said.
In fact, the Gartner report Mason referred to said in part:
“Integration is an often underestimated aspect of mobile application development projects. A notable portion of an overall mobile app project cost — as much as 70% in some cases — can be attributed to integrating the mobile app with established enterprise applications, services and data sources, whether on-premises or in the cloud.”
MuleSoft’s vice president of products Ken Yagen noted that even as integration gets more attention from mobile devs, it’s still a tough task.
“Mobile integration is challenging. It forces IT departments to work at two speeds at once. They have to quickly evolve with mobile technology while keeping mission-critical services stable and reliable,” he added in a statement. “MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform gives [developers] an easy way to create APIs that deliver data and applications to any device in the enterprise without exposing their back-end systems. This API-first approach is the key to mobile transformation.”
MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform for Mobile helps unlock the backend data and assets needed by mobile apps by providing what Mason called, “a layer of abstraction and control between the mission-critical legacy systems and the front-end being exposed to developers.”
Beyond helping front-end mobile devs more easily integrate apps with backend data and services, Anypoint Platform for Mobile also gives IT operations some needed support – letting them manage and analyze APIs that can link mobile apps to Salesforce, ServiceNow, SAP, Siebel and other third-party apps.
Mason shared that this is a problem he sees more and more often with customers. “Integration [for mobile apps] is becoming a much more important issue. We had one customer that had to connect one of their mobile apps to 81 different systems to make it work properly. So, the mobile challenges today are not just with the UI experience. It is in helping developers connect to all these systems,” he said.
Inside MuleSoft’s ‘API-First’ Anypoint Platform for Mobile
So, how does MuleSoft use the ‘API-first’ approach in Anypoint Platform for Mobile to solve the problem?
First, the design behind ‘API-first’ aims to lower the learning curve for mobile app integration – and in turn deliver richer, smarter and more manageable apps. That starts with getting front end devs and backend devs on the same page. “Almost always you have front end guys consuming APIs and the backend guys [defining] them and there is no good construct to bring them together,” Mason said. Anypoint Platform for Mobile features “broker this conversation.”
Anypoint Platform for Mobile looks to unify design-time and runtime, with tooling and a well-tuned API lifecycle that will drive collaboration across all API-driven integration tasks - from design, asset access, operations and management, Mason noted.
Another key to this collaboration is Anypoint Platform for Mobile’s use of RAML (Restful API Modeling Language). RAML offers what project members call “a simple and succinct way of describing practically RESTful APIs. It encourages reuse and enables discovery and pattern sharing.” RAML is built on broadly used standards, such as YAML and JSON.
Mason described how RAML promotes collaboration. “You need to bring both teams together, and RAML becomes the contract. We know both [groups] are looking at the same artifacts, and that the API design and the API implementation will match,” he said. Further, to make sure the ‘conversation’ goes as planned, Anypoint Platform for Mobile also offers a live designer and mocking service. Front end devs can write either iOS or Android code against it. “We’ve given developers an API-first mobile app lifecycle,” Mason added.
Perhaps one of the most valuable elements MuleSoft’s API-first approach to mobile apps is its Anypoint Templates. “These template are designed to be massive mobile app accelerators,” Mason said. “The templates package up a pattern and an implementation . . . to get data to a mobile device,” Mason said.
Architecturally, Anypoint Templates bring together the data source connector, the API spec and orchestration. The end result is editable and runnable.
As an example, templates are used by devs to simplify how a mobile app connects to SAP data, Mason said. “Say you are building a custom set of [forms] for field mobility. Rather than connect to SAP through to API, we give you an implementation. Developers learn by cut and paste. So we give them code and they read it and understand it. Template will show you how the API was designed for the app in mind. Field names won’t match and we show you how to map these 10 fields (We use the graphical studio, Design Tool).
While the templates are source-specific, MuleSoft is offering 14 new ones that will rapidly connect mobile apps to data from popular on-prem and cloud apps, including Salesforce, ServiceNow, SAP and Siebel among others.
Other Anypoint Platform for Mobile capabilities for using APIs to de-mystify mobile app integration include:
- Anypoint Exchange: Provides easy-to-follow templates and patterns that enable devs and even business users to meet common integration scenarios.
- Support for Microsoft APIs, including Sharepoint and Dynamics, build pure-cloud or hybrid cloud messaging with connectivity to the Azure Service Bus APIs, and map between .NET objects. It also lets mobile devs easily reference and consume APIs within Visual Studio, or generate ASP.NET Web API 2 compatible APIs.
- Enhanced connectivity to RESTful HTTP services to REST-based APIs with the ability to explore resources, methods, and headers and transform JSON and XML data structures
- Friction-less API Gateway Deployment: Allows devs to create a secure connection to any back-end service or data source with a lightweight solution that runs on the cloud or on-premises behind a firewall
Anypoint Platform for Mobile also offers some important features for mobile app monitoring and management – thanks to a range of innovative analytics. Among them:
- API analytics dashboards: Graphically track key metrics, including top users, transactions by region, usage by tier, and performance against SLAs in interactive dashboards and charts
- API-powered ‘on demand’ analytics: These help users generate custom reports on API usage including different application types and devices in JSON and CSV format, and easily expose the reports as RESTful APIs for both developers and business users to consume
- Operational visibility: IT can be sure apps meet SLAs and other performance criteria thanks to the on-going ability to manage integrations using MuleSoft’s runtime API. IT can also publish details to third-party systems like Nagios and Zabbix, and even plug into existing continuous integration processes and tools like Jenkins
Beyond the API-first technologies in Anypoint Platform for Mobile, Mason also wants to promote a new way of thinking of integration.
“SOAP and XML forgot about the consumer of the data. API-first turns these ideas on its head because the API lets you design to reduce complexity for the consumer,” Mason said. “So, we feel APIs, will prove the better way to connect [mobile apps] with multiple systems.”
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