Majority of Microservices Environments Adopt Service Mesh

In the past, we’ve reviewed the efficacy of service mesh and considered whether it’s mature enough for adoption. Others have suggested using service mesh to control both east-west and north-south traffic.

Now, in mid–2021, findings suggest service mesh adoption is rising in parallel with microservices deployments. The recent APIs and Integration Report 2021 from Software AG finds 85% of organizations using microservices adopt service mesh. Furthermore, as APIs and integration requirements proliferate, proponents see a benefit to bringing APIs and microservices under the same roof. “Increasingly, [organizations] are realizing that microservices can’t be completely separated from API strategy,” says Suraj Kumar, GM of APIs, integration and microservices at Software AG.

Below, we’ll review these and other key takeaways from Software AG’s APIs and Integration Report 2021. I also met with Suraj Kumar to get his perspective on the evolution of APIs, microservices and integration patterns.

Microservices and Service Mesh

Service mesh adoption follows the rise of microservices.

The report demonstrates the proliferation of microservices; 81% of respondents currently use microservices within their organization. Microservices are most common at large enterprises with 5,000 or more employees, where 85% adopt them. The fact that 18% don’t use microservices currently but plan to in the future suggests a continual upward trajectory of growth.

The report also finds that 95% of respondents believe that microservices are or would be extremely or very important to their organization’s operation. So, what are some benefits to introducing microservices? The report shows companies embrace them for greater agility, easier scalability and/or to improve security, among other reasons.

The report also suggests service mesh is very complementary to a microservices approach. Service mesh usage rates were very high in this report — 85% of organizations using microservices currently use service mesh as part of their microservices management stagey. For those that don’t, 14% plan to use service mesh in the future.

Service mesh provides a common service-to-service communication layer. By utilizing a sidecar proxy that sits next to container-based microservices, service mesh can centrally apply networking features across a distributed architecture. Yet, service mesh is no silver bullet. Challenges in implementing service mesh include complexity to implement (52%), gaps in development (52%), a lack of maturity (36%) and an under-skilled staff (27%).

APIs Are Ubiquitous

APIs have hit the mainstream

As more enterprises embrace cloud-based digital transformation, their reliance on APIs and integrations is soaring. As a result, 98% of respondents believe APIs are very or extremely important to their organization’s operations. And 86% believe APIs are responsible for breaking down IT silos.

In terms of use cases, APIs affect many project areas, from application development (79%) to digital transformation projects (79%), innovation projects (77%) and modernization projects (74%). Here, “innovation” is defined as using APIs to innovate faster and more effectively. The high number across all project types indicates the interconnectivity of today’s enterprises and how APIs co-support multiple agendas for today’s digital business.

There are many benefits to introducing an API-based strategy. Respondents cite flexibility in delivering services and information as a top positive, at 53%. Other top benefits include integration between cloud systems (49%) and quicker time to market (46%). Also, 49% of respondents cite using APIs to support more personalized user experiences, following other reports of consumer-facing applications adopting a headless format.

APIs do come with challenges. The report highlights security implications and difficulty navigating API management solutions as top difficulties. When using APIs, 48% surveyed say ensuring API security is a top challenge. Other challenges include limited staff, scalability and development hindrances. A full 83% say basic API management solutions are no longer adequate to satisfy changing requirements.

“API management is playing a very key role within the organization,” says Kumar. He describes how digital transformation and modernization projects throughout the pandemic have only driven further interest in API management.

Integration Goes Hybrid

Integration systems are becoming more hybridized

The report also demonstrates the prevalence of systems that enable integration. The study finds 99% of organizations are using an integration system. It also reveals a growing need to support cloud and on-premises systems, as 64% of organizations use a hybrid integration system. Some benefits of using a hybrid integration system include improved productivity (55%), improved innovation (49%) and greater visibility (48%).

Again, security is a concern for integration systems, as 47% say securing it from external threats is a top challenge. A limited budget, limited staff and company resistance to change can also be roadblocks to leveraging integration systems, the report finds.

All respondents say the process of building integrations has changed in recent years. These factors include speed, efficacy, completeness and maturity. To meet these new expectations, 83% say more skills are required to carry out an integration process. Nearly all agree (95%) that some improvements are necessary to improve their integration processes.

“Hybrid is becoming extremely important for integration and meeting regulatory needs,” says Kumar. Many enterprises have sunk decades and millions of dollars into a data center. Though most are moving to the cloud, on-premises persists, and a select few platform companies are even returning to the metal. Since these assets still hold value, Kumar believes they’re “going to be hybrid for a long time.”

Bundling APIs and Microservices

Companies want to bundle, but production proof does not yet exist.

APIs and microservices are often treated as separate objectives — you use an API gateway for externalizing services (north-south traffic) and microservices with service mesh for internal communication (east-west traffic). However, according to Kumar, this precedent could change.

The report concludes that a “bundled solution could further emphasize the benefits of APIs and micseorvices.” The data seems to back up that assertion, as 97% of respondents said “it would be beneficial to combine the utilization of APIs, integration and microservices together as a bundled solution.” However, only 1% actually combine APIs, microservices and integration into a single package.

Kumar does not attribute this discrepancy to modern technical impediments; rather, this is due to the historical nature of past projects and a lack of appropriate vendor solutions, he says. “These projects are often led by different teams, but increasingly they are coming together,” says Kumar. The reliance on older integration formats such as EDI and ESB could be barriers to embracing modern standards. “They want to have a common approach, and can no longer sustain four, five or six solutions anymore,” he says.

Combining these components could bring time savings, higher customer satisfaction and better customer insights, survey respondents believe. Certainly, more time and production evidence is required to validate this approach.

The study finds only 2% of IT professionals believe APIs are not that important. Similarly, microservices and the solutions that enable them are projected to rise in ubiquity.

To review:

  • Microservices are proliferating.
  • Service mesh is becoming a more common control plane.
  • Integration is leaning toward a hybrid mode to support cloud and on-premises systems.
  • API reliance is elevating maintenance concerns.
  • Security is the most common challenge across categories.
  • Consumers see a high advantage in bundling APIs, microservices and integration, yet this has little to no production proof.

In the coming years, integration-savvy organizations will face mounting challenges juggling these new paradigms. “A lot of these challenges are organizational,” says Kumar. “We need to make sure these teams are working together with each other.”

Especially as an API catalog grows into the thousands, enterprises may have a hard time with information sharing, Kumar adds. To provide greater visibility across an organization, he recommends a unified platform to aid documentation and service discovery.

The Annual APIs and Integration Report 2021 was commissioned by Software AG and conducted by VansonBourne. It surveys 950 global IT decision makers on the state APIs, integration and microservices. For more, check it out here.

Bill Doerrfeld

Bill Doerrfeld is a tech journalist and analyst. His beat is cloud technologies, specifically the web API economy. He began researching APIs as an Associate Editor at ProgrammableWeb, and since 2015 has been the Editor at Nordic APIs, a high-impact blog on API strategy for providers. He loves discovering new trends, interviewing key contributors, and researching new technology. He also gets out into the world to speak occasionally.

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