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Distribution as an Exercise in API Management

Right now, just about every cloud service comes with its own user interface. But that will change, as will the role of solution providers and distributors.

These days just about everything running in the cloud exposes some form of an application programming interface (API), regardless of whether it involves hardware or software. While many of those APIs are open, the vast majority of them are private—an organization can only gain access to them as part of some formal licensing relationship. Multiply out the number of vendors in the cloud that are exposing products and services via an API, and it quickly becomes apparent how much of a challenge API management can be for the average solution provider in the channel.

Looking to address that issue, Ingram Micro has been building out its Ingram Micro Cloud Marketplace, an app store environment for the channel that runs on top of a cloud computing service created by Parallels. Given the fact that most of the APIs that vendors want to expose to their partners are private, Jason Bystrak, senior director in the Americas for Ingram Micro Cloud, said the Ingram Micro Cloud Marketplace functions as a clearing house of sorts for validating those APIs.

One of the problems with APIs in general is that the quality of those APIs can vary wildly from vendor to vendor. That’s a major problem for solution providers that are trying to craft solutions in the cloud that span multiple services. Each additional service that gets incorporated in that solution winds up creating another potential management headache. Bystrak said one of the primary business values that the Ingram Cloud Marketplace brings to the channel is beyond just the sourcing of the cloud services—it’s the validation that the APIs exposed by those cloud service providers actually work as advertised.

Bystrak also noted one of the primary reasons Ingram Micro moved to acquire SoftCom last year was because the hosting company had a lot of expertise working on the Parallels cloud platform. As the Ingram Cloud Marketplace develops, Bystrak said solution providers should expect to see Ingram Micro create value-added solutions that invoke APIs from different cloud service providers that provide complementary technologies in a way that would, for example, be optimized for a particular vertical industry.

As the API economy continues to evolve across the channel the most significant implication may be that the cost of switching products and services is about to drop dramatically. If the only cost of moving between one product and services is redirecting an API call, the end customer (or the solution provider they contract) is pretty much free to swap out that product or service at will. That becomes even easier, Bystrak said, when all the billing for those services is managed by single distributor. Arguably, it’s this very realization that is driving up the valuations of IT service providers and distributors alike while the valuations of vendors continues to decline.

Right now, of course, just about every cloud service comes with its own user interface. But as usage of “headless services” in the cloud continues to grow, it’s only a matter of time before solution providers and their customers standardize the user interface through which they access multiple cloud services. Once that happens, distribution as we once knew it evolves into an API management function operating at level of unprecedented scale in the cloud.

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