Battle for Service Mesh Control Heats Up

While appreciation of precisely what problem a service mesh solves in a Kubernetes environment is still fairly limited in scope, a battle for control over how microservices will be configured and managed via a service mesh is already intensifying.

Buoyant, developer of the open source Linkerd service mesh, announced today it has picked up an additional $10 million in funding to help drive further adoption. Buoyant CEO William Morgan says that, as a much lighter-weight instance of a service mesh, Linkerd especially appeals to developers looking for a control mechanism for microservices that is easy to implement.

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There are, of course, multiple approaches to building a service mesh. The most well-known rival to Linkerd is Istio, a service mesh being advanced by Google, IBM and Lyft. Red Hat, VMware, NGINX, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have thrown their support behind Istio. Both incorporate elements of open source Envoy proxy server software developed under the auspices of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which also oversees the development of Kubernetes. However, Linkerd is also a CNCF project; Istio is being developed outside of the framework for advancing Kubernetes technologies put in place by the CNCF.

Morgan says Buoyant is betting that despite the number of vendors throwing their weight behind Istio, the developer community ultimately will prefer a much lighter-weight approach that doesn’t require a vendor to set up a managed service to implement. Developers consistently have voted with their feet in the age of microservices and containers for the technologies that have the least impact on overall application performance and remove as much friction as possible from the deployment process, notes Morgan.

With that issue in mind, Buoyant, with the help of the rest of the Linkerd community, last fall released Linkerd 2.0, which both significantly improved performance and reduced resource consumption. Last month, the community released Linkerd 2.2.1, which added features including request-level load balancing, retries, “transparent” TLS encryption and live monitoring of golden metrics such as success rate, request throughput and latency distributions.

IT organizations that already rely on Linkerd include Chase Bank, BigCommerce and HomeAway, a unit of Expedia. Venture capitalists that have invested in Buoyant include Benchmark, A.Capital and—somewhat ironically—GV, formerly known as Google Ventures.

The vendor politics surrounding an open source project is always complicated. Lyft and Google decided to build Istio at a time when Linkerd did not exist. Over time, however, both Istio and Linkerd have continued to mature. There are also rival service mesh platforms from vendors, such as Consul from HashiCorp. In fact, the rise of service mesh platforms is also one the primary reasons NGINX earlier this week agreed to be acquired by F5 Networks. NGINX provides one of the most widely employed open source proxy servers today. But the CNCF community has thrown its weight behind Envoy as the preferred proxy server for Kubernetes. NGINX previously signaled its support for deploying Istio on top of its proxy server. But it’s unclear to what degree NGINX will be able to rally support for its proxy server in modern applications running on Kubernetes clusters.

Regardless of the outcome, the one thing everyone in the Kubernetes community seems to be able to agree on is that it’s now just a matter of time before every IT organization needs some form of a service mesh to provide a control plane for microservices that increase with each passing day.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.

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