API management is the process of building, distributing, and monitoring APIs. The industry has a whole host of tools designed to help in each of these areas, but there’s a lot to be gained by using a single API management solution that tackles them all. The issue is that many API management solutions are prohibitively expensive, especially for startups with big ambitions but little to no revenue.
For this article, we’ve rounded up five powerful and affordable API management solutions for startups, including both open-source gateways and fully-fledged management services. But first, let’s talk about our criteria.
As we’ve previously covered, there are dozens of API management tools out there, so we’ve had to be selective in choosing just five of them. To narrow the list down, we started by asking for the community’s favorites, after which we singled out solutions that best met the following three criteria:
- Affordable: We prioritized tools that were either open-source or offered transparent, low-cost pricing. Since startups usually have limited API traffic, low-cost pricing refers to the absolute price of entry-level plans, and not necessarily the price per call.
- Complete: We prioritized the open-source tools with the most comprehensive feature sets. Completeness was also a factor in comparing the paid solutions.
- Scalable: Since tech startups must be able to scale quickly, we prioritized tools that could support the technical needs of the startup as it grew (e.g., high throughput and/or multiple gateways) and/or offered pay-as-you-grow pricing plans.
Kong is a popular, open-core API management solution praised for its flexibility. The open-source codebase is primarily an API gateway, with everything from authentication to routing and monitoring. Thanks to its large community, there are a considerable number of third-party extensions available. KongHQ also offers a managed (pun intended) API management service, which further includes an admin interface, developer portal, more advanced analytics, among other features. Unfortunately, pricing for this managed service is only available upon request.
- Managed: Price on request
Like Kong, Tyk is both an open-source API gateway and hosted API management service. The open-source gateway is very similar to Kong in terms of functionality, with a few notable differences: Tyk is built in Golang (as opposed to Lua), and only requires a Redis data store (but not Cassandra or PostgreSQL). The gateway has its own collection of plugins, albeit a smaller one. Tyk’s hosted service starts at $450 per month, which could be an attractive next step for the startup as revenues grow.
- Managed: Starts at $450 per month
IBM API Connect
IBM’s API Connect is a hosted API management service, with everything you need to design, secure, and monitor APIs (and plenty more). In addition to being an API gateway, API Connect offers quintessential management features such as billing and developer portals. What makes it stand out among other API management services is its entirely free plan — up to 50,000 API calls per month — with subsequent pay-as-you-grow pricing.
- Free 50K calls per month; then $100 per 100K calls
Azure API Management
Microsoft’s Azure API Management is another excellent hosted API management solution. Once again, it offers everything you’d hope for, including powerful API mocking functionality. What makes Azure API Management particularly attractive, however, is that it’s built side-by-side with Azure, one of the most popular cloud computing platforms in the world. With production instances starting at just under $150 per month, it’s also highly affordable.
- Managed: From ~$150 per month
Moving back to open-source solutions, Gravitee.io is yet another incredibly popular API management tool. Gravitee.io claims to be more than just an API gateway, boasting features such as analytics and API documentation out of the box. It also comes alongside an open-source access management solution, which takes care of authentication and authorization. A managed solution is available from GraviteeHouse, with pricing upon request.
- Managed: Price on request
Which API Management Tool to Choose
We’ve just covered five excellent tools for affordable API management, from open-source gateways to complete management platforms. Now you’re probably wondering which of the five to choose! Ultimately, the solution you opt for will depend on what features, characteristics, and technologies are most important to you. In any case, here are some quick suggestions to send you in the right direction:
- Choose Kong or Tyk if you’re looking for an open-source API gateway with a strong community.
- Choose IBM’s API Connect for a complete API management platform with a free production plan.
- Choose Microsoft’s Azure API Management for its mocking functionality and/or seamless integration with the Azure cloud environment.
- Choose Gravitee.io for an open-source solution with additional API and access management functionality.
As we mentioned earlier, there are a lot of API management tools out there, and it would be unfeasible for us to review each of them in-depth for the purposes of this article. With that in mind, here are some honorable mentions for open-source or seemingly-affordable solutions:
- 3scale (paid)
- Linx (paid)
- Zuul (open-source)
- API Umbrella (open-source)
- Fusio (open-source)
- API Platform (open-source)
- APIMan (open-source)
Did we miss another great alternative? If so, let us know in the comments area below!
Phew. We really have covered a selection of the best API management tools for startups. With open-source codebases or transparent and inexpensive pricing structures, these solutions are hard to beat. With that said, there are plenty more options to consider for your specific set of requirements.