Service Mesh Architecture – Explained

Microservices are now everywhere and have taken the software development landscape by storm. In a recently concluded survey, 28% of the respondents revealed that they had been employing microservices for more than three years while 61% claimed to use it for a year. The respondents claimed that some of the biggest benefits of microservices are the flexibility and the increased responsiveness to changing technology and evolving business demands, and greater scalability along with greater code refreshes. These benefits become must-haves in today’s dynamic business environment to maintain a competitive edge.

The Microservices Challenge

However, microservices, much like everything else in life, also come with some challenges and trade-offs. While microservices bring multiple benefits to the table, the biggest challenge they add is that of complexity. 

This complexity arises from breaking down the legacy monolithic applications into microservices and from managing microservices in general as well. Complexity also increases as these applications begin to grow and need multiple microservices to communicate seamlessly with each other to drive performance. This becomes challenging even if one microservice becomes overwhelmed due to excessive traffic or if it receives too many requests too fast.

This is where Service Mesh can step in and solve these challenges.

What is Service Mesh?

Service-to-service communication is what makes microservices work. This process of one service requests data from many other services gets complex as microservices scale. A service mesh is a dedicated infrastructure layer that is built into an application and controls the service-to-service communication in a microservices architecture. It automatically routes the requests to the correct destination while optimizing how these parts work together. It enables regular load balancing, allows data encryption data, and facilitates service discovery.

The logic that governs communication can also be directly coded into microservices but as the microservices get more complex, a service mesh becomes all the more valuable. For cloud-native applications, a service mesh also becomes the path to comprise multiple discrete services into a functional application. 

The Benefits of Service Mesh

The key drivers of Service Mesh adoption are security/encryption, service-level observability, and service-level control. A service mesh provides security for data in transit in a cluster and can be driven by industry-specific regulatory concerns. It also:

  • Builds in greater visibility into how workloads and services are communicating at the application layer, especially in multi-tenant environments like Kubernetes or as more services get deployed. 
  • Implement service-level control and help determine which services should communicate with each other and how. This also gives organizations the capacity to implement zero-trust models around security. Service mesh gives organizations an operationally simpler approach to manage microservices communication and improve security and application communication and observability.
  • Solves complexities at the highly elastic, fast-moving, and containerized end of the architecture spectrum. Organizations that have large-scale applications composed of many microservices benefit from Service Mesh. As application complexity increases it needs greater and more sophisticated routing capabilities to optimize the flow of data. This ensures that the application performance remains optimal.
  • Allows developers to focus on driving business value and business logic as they build each layer instead of wasting energy on worrying about how one service communicates with another.
  • Enables DevOps teams with established CI/CD pipelines to programmatically deploy apps and application infrastructure (Kubernetes) to manage source code and test automation tools like Artifactory, Jenkins, Git, or Selenium. It also allows DevOps teams to manage security and networking policies through code.
  • Makes applications more resilient. It allows organizations to constantly force authentication, encryption, and other policy across diverse protocols or runtimes. The capability to reroute requests from failed services also contributes to increasing application resilience

Where does Service Mesh figure in Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is now considered the de-facto standard for container orchestration and allows for service mesh to sit in it comfortably. Employing a service mesh when building applications on Kubernetes provides reliability, critical observability, and enhanced security features. The biggest advantage is that the application does not even need to implement these features or even be aware of the service mesh at work.  

Kubernetes focuses on managing the application while the service mesh focuses on making the communication aspect safer and more reliable.

However, if organizations are not using Kubernetes, then the cost-of-service mesh adoption can accelerate as they have to focus on evaluating their strategy to manage thousands of proxies by hand in the absence of underlying Kubernetes features. To solve this challenge, organizations have to look at cross-platform service meshes. But this does make the cost-benefit equation quite different.

Service mesh delivers immense value 

  • When the microservices are written in many different languages and do not follow a common architectural pattern or framework. 
  • For organizations that are integrating third-party code or interoperating with teams that are a bit more distant (e.g., across partnerships or M&A boundaries) and need a common foundation to build on. 
  • If organizations are re-solving problems constantly especially in utility code, have robust security, auditability, and compliance needs, or discover teams spending more time localizing and identifying problems rather than solving them.

For organizations leveraging microservices, it makes sense to implement a service mesh before they reach the tipping point where libraries built within microservices can no longer handle service-to-service communication without disruption.

Service Mesh is now becoming a widely-used and critical component of the cloud-native stack. This technology is evolving and maturing fast to align with the enterprises’ microservices goals and is allowing them to connect, manage, and observe microservices-based applications with behavioral insight



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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