15 Tips for Evaluating Unified API Solutions

September 15th, 2023
Written by
Daniel Spataro


Integrating third-party APIs into your app can be a frustrating experience. Every API has its own authentication scheme, data structures, SDKs and client libraries. This fragmentation forces engineers to learn multiple ways of doing the same thing.

Unified API platforms aim to solve this problem by providing a single interface for calling many different APIs. But not all unified API solutions are created equal. As a software engineer evaluating such platforms, you need to look under the hood to ensure it will accelerate development without creating new issues down the road.

Below are 15 tips to guide your evaluation process:

1. Examine the unified data model

The core value proposition of a unified API platform is providing a common data schema across different APIs. Carefully inspect this unified schema to ensure it can represent the full capabilities of the underlying APIs. Watch out for situations where data fidelity is lost in translation.

2. Review API coverage

The number of APIs covered is an obvious consideration. But also look at which specific APIs are integrated. Most platforms start with popular services like Stripe, Twilio and Mailchimp. However, you’ll want to see connectors for industry-specific and emerging APIs too.

3. Understand the pricing model and metering thoroughly

Pricing is an important factor in platform evaluation. Make sure to fully understand how the provider charges for usage - per API call, volume tiers, add-on fees etc. Check if the metering accounts for caching, errors, retries etc. Get clarity if pricing is per concurrent connection, credential or other metric. Negotiate discounted enterprise deals if applicable. The wrong pricing model can quickly lead to unexpected and inflated bills down the road if not properly vetted. Make sure the model aligns with and incentivizes your desired usage patterns.

Key aspects to review are:

  • Pricing structure - flat fee, per API call, volume tiers etc.
  • Metering details - what counts as a billable event?
  • Caching - does this reduce metering?
  • Error handling - are failed calls billed?
  • Retries - how are retries counted?
  • Concurrent connections - is this metered?
  • Credentials - is this metered?
  • Discounted tiers - are enterprise deals available?
  • Budgeting tools - can you forecast spend?
  • Billing controls - can you set usage alerts?

Vetting the pricing thoroughly upfront prevents any budget surprises or overage charges later on. Work with the vendor to negotiate a model that provides flexibility and visibility into your API usage spend.

4. Check for rate limiting protections

Most APIs enforce rate limits to prevent abuse. Make sure the unified platform inherits the most restrictive limit across all APIs. You don’t want your app to get throttled because the abstraction leaked rate limiting info.

5. Verify end-to-end request auditing

The unified API should provide visibility into the underlying API calls for debugging and monitoring. Confirm it captures all request data, response codes, latency, errors etc. This telemetry is crucial for troubleshooting.

6. Assess the consolidation of credentials

Having a single credential store eliminates nagging key management tasks. Check if the platform offers role-based access control, key rotation and secrets vaulting. These features are table stakes for secure, scaled usage.

7. Documented fallback procedures are a must

Even the most resilient platforms have downtime. Make sure there are documented fallback procedures to gracefully handle outages. Bonus points if the platform auto-retries failed requests and load balances across API providers.

8. Look for client library support

While REST/JSON is universal, native SDKs make development easier. See what client libraries the platform provides across mobile, web, backend frameworks etc. More supported frameworks means faster integrations.

9. Try before you buy with easy onboarding

Testing the unified API hands-on is invaluable before committing. Signup should be quick with no upfront costs. Also look for interactive docs, sandbox accounts and sample apps to ramp up quickly.

10. Expect platform extensibility

The platform should allow adding new API connectors over time, as your needs grow. There should be self-serve tools to build connectors without vendor involvement.

11. Integration with API gateways

For scale, you’ll want to front the unified API behind your API gateway. See if the platform can be deployed as a service within your gateway, as a proxy, or with CLI tooling.

12. Verify multi-region availability

To reduce latency and remain online across regions, the unified API platform should be available in all geographic zones you operate in.

13. Check for robust documentation and examples

Quality documentation accelerates learning and proper usage. Look for detailed technical docs, step-by-step tutorials, sample code snippets and interactive playgrounds. These resources will be invaluable for your team.

14. Pay attention to the developer experience

Testing out the platform yourself is the best way to assess the overall developer experience. Signing up, integrating the API, finding answers - how intuitive and frictionless are these workflows? A seamless DX makes adoption painless.

15. Can the provider offer consultative expertise?

Even with great docs and APIs, you'll eventually have tricky questions. See if the vendor provides technical account management or professional services to help strategize integrations.

Evaluating unified API platforms requires moving beyond basic feature checklists. Follow these tips to perform diligent platform analysis before you standardize.