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Apollo GraphQL creates supergraph for connected data service

Apollo is out with updates for its namesake GraphQL platform, including a new router technology and a data federation update to help organizations connect to data sources.

Apollo GraphQL on Wednesday advanced its platform with the release of its supergraph technology, an approach that aims to provide stronger data federation and connectivity across multiple sources.

The GraphQL vendor, based in San Francisco, provides a platform that enables organizations to connect disparate sources of data using the open source GraphQL protocol.

In August 2019, Apollo GraphQL first attempted to enable a form of managed GraphQL federation. The supergraph is the next generation of Apollo GraphQL's federation approach, enabling organizations to create a large knowledge graph using GraphQL to connect data and application services.

The supergraph is composed of a series of technologies and services. They include the new Apollo Router, which processes and directs GraphQL queries; and the Apollo Studio tool, which helps organizations build and manage GraphQL services. The vendor updated Apollo Studio with new features to improve reliability with schema checks.

The trajectory Apollo is on right now really impresses me. They've been enabling large enterprises going through digital transformation to embrace agility, scale and collaboration on their terms.
Mike LeoneAnalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Another key component of the supergraph is Apollo Federation 2. Released on April 13, it is a data federation technology for connecting GraphQL services.

"The trajectory Apollo is on right now really impresses me," said Mike Leone, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "They've been enabling large enterprises going through digital transformation to embrace agility, scale and collaboration on their terms."

The Apollo GraphQL platform today can sit at the center of an organization and serve as a foundation for all the GraphQL technology that an enterprise is using, according to Leone. The Apollo Router and Federation 2 enable faster performance for better scalability of the entire platform, he said.

Apollo isn't the only vendor looking to make it easier for organizations to federate GraphQL data sources. Among other vendors in the niche is GraphQL startup Hasura, which launched its 2.6 release on April 28. A primary focus for Hasura with its update was also data federation across GraphQL sources.

A continuing challenge for GraphQL users that Apollo and other vendors grapple with is how to make it easier for users to create and manage GraphQL sources while using other non-GraphQL sources of data at the same time.

What the supergraph enables

The supergraph approach has been evolving at the vendor over the past few years, said Geoff Schmidt, CEO and co-founder of Apollo GraphQL.

"What companies are doing is they're putting all of their different parts of their company onto the supergraph," Schmidt said. "The supergraph serves as a network of all the company's resources. It lets anybody take anything they need off of the graph and build things."

Among the applications users can build with a supergraph are operational services for data.

For example, an organization could use the supergraph to connect multiple services to be able to get a full view of a customer's orders, Schmidt said. A single query with Apollo GraphQL, by virtue of being connected to the supergraph of connected services, can reach out to different sources of data to provide answers pulled from multiple back-end systems.

How the Apollo GraphQL supergraph works

One of the key components of the supergraph model is the Apollo Router technology.

The router succeeds an older technology known as the Apollo Gateway -- which the vendor still offers as an alternative -- that helped to direct GraphQL queries to data sources. The Apollo Router is a new approach for routing GraphQL queries with better performance and scale than the Apollo Gateway, Schmidt said.

While Apollo Gateway was written in JavaScript, the vendor built the Apollo Router in the open source Rust programming language, which provides speed and security gains.

The Apollo Gateway was designed so that users had to put their own code inside of it to make specific connections. With the new Apollo Router, users also have the ability to configure scripts, but Schmidt emphasized that it is designed for ease of use, so a user can just turn it on and it will work. The router integrates its own query planner to understand GraphQL queries and determine the optimal way to process them.

"The supergraph is a switchboard. It's not something that stores things; it's like a clearinghouse," Schmidt said. "So it's an abstract virtual overlay over all your stuff wherever it is, so you can leave your APIs and your databases working how and where they do, and you can put this layer on top of it."

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.

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