What is a Service Mesh?

A microservices architecture can offer enterprises a number of benefits, but without a service mesh, IT teams will be unable to mitigate a slew of networking headaches.

In one of our previous articles, we wrote about the value of a microservices architecture. As a refresher, microservices are a way for CIOs and IT teams to structure their applications into a collection of loosely coupled services and modules. These modules communicate with each other through APIs, which grants developers a more decentralized approach to their work. Microservices have many benefits, like improving fault isolation (so that large applications aren’t affected by minor incidents), they make it easier for developers to understand the use of single applications, and they offer IT teams much-needed flexibility to the testing process of new business solutions.

For any enterprise that prioritizes agility and adaptability in their application development, moving from a traditional monolithic architecture to a more decentralized environment can be a very advantageous endeavor. That being said, microservice architectures can be a challenge to roll out, and CIOs should think carefully before overhauling their systems.

In a microservices climate, everything operates as an independent service. As a result, IT teams become tasked with handling a slew of requests that bounce between disparate modules. This can pose complications for CIOs, especially as their enterprises grow and more applications are brought to the fore. CIOs may begin to feel stretched thin with the new gluts of database and transaction management responsibilities.

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To avoid some of these common drawbacks, it’s advisable for any digital enterprise to consider implementing a service mesh when they begin their microservices architecture planning. With the use of service meshes, CIOs can ease a lot of the strain that IT and DevOps team might be feeling in microservice climates.

What is a Service Mesh? 

A service mesh is an infrastructure layer that manages service-to-service communication over a network. It’s designed to make communication between applications and services more flexible, reliable, and efficient. From a general standpoint, a service mesh optimizes communication between containerized application infrastructures. This makes it easier for IT teams to manage tasks like traffic routing, load balancing, service discovery, authentication and authorization, and more.

To truly understand how a service mesh can help CIOs and IT teams, consider how applications exist in a microservices architecture. A microservice application might incorporate hundreds of services, each with a different set of operating needs — under these circumstances, a developer is bound to struggle to manage all of the disparate components. If an application used in a critical part of your business operations encounters an issue, diagnosing and fixing the failed service can feel like a near-impossible challenge.

A service mesh provides value by offering developers the ability to separate service-to-service communication into a dedicated layer. With this ability, IT teams can gain an added layer of transparency between communication components in the services they deploy. This lets developers identify and fix bottlenecks with more ease, and can help keep end-users on DevOps teams happy.

Service mesh architectures work through the use of something called a sidecar proxy — an application design pattern that alters specific features away from the primary architecture. A developer can attach a sidecar proxy to an application and use it to abstract components like inter-service communications. This eases the tracking and maintenance of an application and makes it easy for IT workers to gain visibility into service communications.

Picking the Correct Provider 

Given that there are many service meshes available, sometimes enterprises can feel overwhelmed when deciding which option to invest in. When making a decision, you should first be ready to define a few internal expectations. These can include knowing which platforms you need to support, articulating what support expectations your organization has, whether you favor centralized or decentralized functionality, and determining what level of observability your network services currently have. From there, it’s easier to decide which provider to partner with.

There are few popular providers in the industry that most enterprises choose to employ. Linkerd is a popular open source network proxy designed to be deployed as a service mesh. Isitio is an open, platform-independent, service mesh that provides traffic management, policy enforcement, and telemetry collection. Envoy, unlike the other two, is a proxy developed in C++ designed to mediate traffic in a service mesh.

In an era defined by a technical skills shortage and a proliferation of cybercrime, enterprise CIOs and IT teams can often feel like they’re struggling to keep their heads above water. Luckily, Turn-key Technologies, Inc. (TTI) is here to help support you and your IT teams. With nearly thirty years of industry experience, we understand how difficult it can be to make the move to a microservices architecture. We can talk you through the many decisions you’ll have to make along the way to help set your enterprise up for success.

By Craig Badrick


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