Containers are bringing greater agility to cloud native deployments, but that agility does come at a cost. With containers that cost is tied to management and orchestration of microservices and applications running within an ephemeral architecture.
The container community has tackled some of this challenge by throwing support behind Kubernetes as a way to orchestrate deployments. This has helped the ecosystem progress to an extent, though numerous other orchestration and management issues remain.
One of those centers around managing the development and maintenance that accompanies the deployment of applications and microservices into containers. Enter Istio, which launched last year backed by heavyweights Google, IBM, and Lyft, which donated its Envoy proxy that makes the network transparent to applications.
Istio was established to provide developers with visibility into microservices without the need to change application code. The platform sits at the network level and uses a substrate for microservices development and maintenance. This allows for the decoupling of management from application development.
Since its launch, the Istio community has rolled out several updates that have fine-tuned its performance, with the platform currently sitting on version 0.7.
Hit the Ground Running
Istio initially hooked its efforts to Kubernetes as a way to provide automatic traffic load balancing, control of traffic behavior, traffic encryption, policy enforcement, telemetry, and reporting. This was not much of a surprise considering the backing from Google, which birthed Kubernetes, and IBM, which has thrown considerable support behind the open source orchestrator.
Istio garnered considerable attention at last year’s KubeCon event in Austin, Texas. Dan Berg, a distinguished engineer within IBM Cloud, said Istio-focused sessions at the event were “standing room only.”
“It was really great to see such support from the community,” Berg said.
While support was robust, Berg said those sessions revealed that a lot of work still remained. He said that the platform itself has since evolved enough to support specific production environments, noting that IBM itself was using the telemetry components for internal microservices monitoring.
“Yes and no,” Berg said of the ability for Istio today to support production environments. “Just like with any project there is a rate of maturation, and in some cases it’s mature enough so you can use it today.”
Rich Sharples, senior director for project management at Red Hat, said the vendor was working with a small group of close customers to evaluate Istio in a production environment. Those customers include what he termed “bleeding-edge” companies that have been experimenting with using Istio and Red Hat’s OpenShift platform.
“It’s important feedback we are getting,” Sharples said. “Mixing two technologies in Kubernetes and Istio and understanding real-life use cases.”
Sharples said that the feedback so far has been positive with Istio in some cases setting up to help those just coming into the space to “leapfrog two or three generations of microservices work.”
Istio’s position in the cloud native ecosystem might be growing, but it’s still trying to find its place. It has often been compared with Linkerd, which is an open source service mesh for cloud native applications that operates under the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).
Analysts initially tapped Istio as a potential replacement for Linkerd.
“Istio seems more agnostic about supporting asynchronous microservices patterns, which could become a point of distinction between the two platforms going forward,” said RedMonk analyst James Governor following the Istio launch.
The Linkerd community since has added support that allows users to run both. This involves using Istio as a control plane across Linkerd instances.
Despite the seemingly competitive environment, Berg said he was confident Istio would not fade away. “Having some bigger companies behind it does help,” he said.
Berg did note that the community is planning a greater push this year behind standardization and hardening work. This will then lead to a planned commercial release of a 1.0 version for general availability, though that will not slow down the pace of development.
“Adopting Istio will feel complex because you will be looking to solve a complex problem,” Berg explained. “It’s a simple solution for a complex problem. But even when we go 1.0 we will remain focused on the adoption of Istio in chunks so users don’t get overwhelmed.”