GraphQL, developed internally at Facebook to help developers with API management before getting rolled out as an open-source query language in 2015, has gained traction as an alternative (or complement) to REST and other tools. Airbnb, Pinterest, PayPal and of course Facebook parent Meta are among the companies using it. Now, to raise its profile with developers adopting it, IBM has acquired a GraphQL startup called StepZen, which provides tools for those working in hybrid cloud environments to build and scale GraphQL deployments to pull data from disparate sources.
The financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed. StepZen was founded in 2020 by the same people who started Apigee (which Google acquired for $625 million in 2016), and it appears to have raised just $8 million since that time (and the last time it raised was in 2020). This is IBM’s first acquisition of 2023, and StepZen and its team will become a part of IBM’s Software unit, said Kareem Yusuf, the unit’s SVP of product management and growth.
StepZen’s customers include DataStax, Komex and HP Enterprise.
The startup’s premise is that the state of data and how it is stored and used today has become very complex with the move to the cloud, and considering that many are still working in hybrid architectures.
Stored in warehouses, lakes, multiple public and private clouds, and on premises, pulling that data and using it from across disparate locations requires APIs. GraphQL is one of the languages built for that, creating a simplified way to make those various data calls from a single API.
“This simplicity is why the popularity and usage of GraphQL is growing quickly,” writes Yusuf.
But as some have pointed out, GraphQL can be a complicated framework, and in fact some features of it go unused as a result. StepZen, in short, provides a way to engage with and use GraphQL more easily.
Yet there has been a split opinion on just how widely used GraphQL is today. One survey I saw from 2019 notes that around 38% of developers have adopted it to pull data from multiple sources. Yusuf cites stats from Gartner that says that less than 10 percent of enterprises (not developers) were using GraphQL in 2021.
Still, the Gartner analysts predict that this figure will bump up to 50% by 2025, which is one reason why IBM has picked up StepZen and wants to become a more active provider in this space.
In its last earnings, IBM announced — in line with a lot of what we’ve seen across all of the technology sector — that it would be streamlining its workforce and cutting some 3,900 jobs, or 1.5% of its headcount. Software these days accounts for more than half the company’s revenues, and it’s one of the company’s bright spots in terms of growth. In the last quarter it posted sales of $7.3 billion from software out of overall revenues of $16.7 billion, with software growing 3% while overall revenue was flat.
StepZen is a sign of how the company is investing in what’s working for it right now, and how it’s looking to get a jump on what it will need to continue that growth in the future.
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