Last year was about service mesh evaluation, trialing — and even hype.
While the interest in service mesh as a technology pattern was very high, it was mostly about evaluation and did not see widespread adoption. The capabilities service mesh can add to ease managing microservice-based applications at runtime are obvious, but the technology still needs to reach maturity before gaining widespread production adoption.
What we can say is service mesh adoption should evolve from the hype stage in a very real way this year.
What can we expect to see in 2019?
- The evolution and coalescing of service mesh as a technology pattern;
- The evolution of Istio as the way enterprises choose to implement service mesh;
- Clear uses cases that lead to wider adoption.
The Evolution of Service Mesh
There are several service mesh architectural options when it comes to service mesh, but undoubtedly, the sidecar architecture will see the most widespread usage in 2019. Sidecar proxy as the architectural pattern, and more specifically, Envoy as the technology, have emerged as clear winners for how the majority will implement service mesh.
Considering control plane service meshes, we have seen the space coalesce around leveraging sidecar proxies. Linkerd, with its merging of Conduit and release of Linkerd 2, got on the sidecar train. And the original sidecar control plane mesh, Istio, certainly has the most momentum in the cloud native space. A look at the Istio Github repo shows:
- 14,500 stars;
- 6,400 commits;
- 300 contributors.
And if these numbers don’t clearly demonstrate the momentum of the project, just consider the number of companies building around Istio:
- Aspen Mesh;
- Avi Networks;
- Tufin Orca;
The Evolution of Istio
So the big question is where is the Istio project headed in 2019? I should start with the disclaimer that the following are all guesses. — they are well-informed guesses, but guesses nonetheless.
Now that Istio has hit 1.0, the number of contributors outside the core Google and IBM team are starting to grow. I’d hazard the guess that Istio will be truly stable around 1.3 sometime in June or July. Once the project gets to the point it is usable at scale in production, I think you’ll really see it take off.
Emerging Vendor Landscape
At Aspen Mesh, we hedged our bets on Istio 18 months ago. It seems to be becoming clear that Istio will win service mesh in much the same way Kubernetes has won container orchestration.
Istio is a powerful toolbox that directly addresses many microservices challenges that are being solved with multiple manual processes, or are not being solved at all. The power of the open source community surrounding it also seems to be a factor that will lead to widespread adoption. As this becomes clearer, the number of companies building on Istio and building Istio integrations will increase.
Istio Will Join the Cloud Native Computing Foundation
Total guess here, but I’d bet on this happening in 2019. CNCF has proven to be an effective steward of cloud-native open source projects. I think this will also be a key to widespread adoption which will be key to the long-term success of Istio. We shall see what the project founders decide, but this move will benefit everyone once the Istio project is at the point it makes sense for it to become a CNCF project.
Real-World Use Cases Are Key To Spreading Adoption
Service mesh is still a nascent market and in the next 12-24 months, we should see the market expand past just the early adopters. But for those who have been paying attention, the why of a service mesh has largely been answered. The whyis also certain to evolve, but for now, the reasons to implement a service mesh are clear. I think that large parts of the how are falling into place, but more will emerge as service mesh encounters real-world use cases in 2019.
I think what remains unanswered is “what are the real world benefits I am going to see when I put this into practice”? This is not a new question around an emerging technology. Neither will the way this question gets answered be anything new: and that will be through uses cases. I can’t emphasize enough how use cases based on actual users will be key.
Service mesh is a powerful toolbox, but only a small swath of users will care about how cool the tech is. The rest will want to know what problems it solves.
I predict 2019 will be the year of service mesh use cases that will naturally emerge as the number of adopters increases and begins to talk about the value they are getting with a service mesh.
Some Final Thoughts
If you are already using a service mesh, you understand the value it brings. If you’re considering a service mesh, pay close attention to this space and the number of uses cases will make the real world value proposition more clear. And if you’re not yet decided on whether or not you need a service mesh, check out the recent Gartner, 451 and IDC reports on microservices — all of which say a service mesh will be mandatory by 2020 for any organization running microservices in production.