According to PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, the outlook for 2020 can be summarized in one word—uncertainty. According to the survey, only 27% of CEOs are “very confident” in their prospects for revenue growth in 2020, a low level not seen since 2009. As organizations navigate their way through digital transformations, how can they leverage strategies and applications that help them overcome uncertainty, rather than causing more?

In this article, we talk with Shawn Wormke, Incubation Lead at Aspen Mesh, about how a service mesh can help companies achieve agility with stability in order to overcome uncertainty for the future and get ahead in the marketplace.  

Q: Many CEOs are feeling a sense of uncertainty. More than half of the CEOs surveyed by PwC believe the rate of global GDP growth will decline in 2020. With this concern top of mind, how can applications like service mesh drive value for organizations by addressing security challenges, skills gaps and increased complexity at scale?

A: In times of uncertainty, the potential for flat to decreasing revenues adds intense pressure for CEOs to maintain and grow their business. One of the ways they can overcome this challenge is to focus on becoming more agile and delivering more value to their customers — faster than their competitors — with new products and services. Almost every company has embraced Agile workflows and is adopting cloud and container technologies like Kubernetes to enable this, but these new complex and distributed technologies come with their own set of challenges around operations and security.

One of the patterns for addressing those challenges is service mesh, and I believe it should be at the center of a company’s approach to microservice architectures. Because service meshes, like Istio and Aspen Mesh, are inserted next to every microservice, it enables a strategic point of control for operating and securing next-generation application architectures. By moving critical operations like encryption, certificate management, policy, traffic steering, high-availability, logging and tracing out of the application and into the platform — where it belongs — you can ensure that you have your human capital adding application value rather than managing infrastructure. 

Q: What cloud native technologies and enterprise architecture modernization strategies are you seeing organizations leverage in order to thrive in a quickly evolving marketplace?

A: Microservices architectures, and the container technologies like Kubernetes that enable them, have fundamentally changed the way applications are delivered and managed. These new patterns allow companies to efficiently scale both software and engineering, reduce risk, and improve the overall quality of applications.

These technologies are new and they present challenges like most nascent technologies. But, with the amazing work of open source projects and communities like Istio, Prometheus, Jaeger, Grafana and many others, there are solutions available to help overcome these challenges.

Q: A business’s agility is what allows them to rapidly grow its revenue streams, respond to customer needs and defend against disruption. But is that enough?

A: Agility is a company’s number one business advantage. It is a business’s agility that allows them to rapidly grow revenue, respond to customer needs, and defend against disruption. It is the need for agility that drives digital transformations and causes organizations to define new ways of working, develop new application architectures, and embrace cloud and container technologies.

However, agility with stability is the critical competitive advantage. Companies that can meet evolving customer needs — while staying out of the news for downtime and security breaches — will be the winners of tomorrow.

Q: How exactly does a service mesh get you agility with stability?

A: Because a service mesh sits below the application and above the network — and has a control plane that can consume and apply policy — it enables development and platform teams to work together while focusing on their specific areas of expertise so companies can deliver solutions to their customers that are performant, secure and compliant. 

In addition, a service mesh handles encryption and provides visibility into an application’s behavior like no other technology. It can see the “final product” of the application or service as an outsider and provides a unique perspective on that service’s behavior, performance and communication patterns. This allows operators to operate, manage and scale those services based on their actual needs and the end users’ experience.

Q: Service mesh is a useful tool, but when does it make sense for an organization to consider adopting one?

A: It is true that the service mesh pattern has been around for a few years, but it is still an early market for the technology and surrounding products. Specifically at Aspen Mesh, we have been working with customers in this area for over two years and realize that each organization is different in their maturity and needs when it comes to Kubernetes and microservices. A company may adopt service mesh early in order to meet compliance needs. Some organizations run into challenges in production and need visibility, while others may need to reduce errors caused by lack of engineering expertise on their development teams.

In general, you probably need a service mesh if you can no longer draw your microservices topology on a sheet of paper, or hold it in your head. This usually happens for our customers at about 15-20 microservices.

Q: What are some of the top use cases you are seeing service mesh used for?

A: Kubernetes and containers is a journey for most organizations. Along that journey, road-blocks will be encountered that must be addressed. The most common path for the organizations we talk to involves:

  • Understanding what services they have deployed and how they are communicating,
  • How they can make their platform and applications comply with either company or regulatory requirements, and
  • How they ensure they are providing the best possible user experience and reducing downtime.

Therefore, the most common use cases we see our customers implementing a service mesh for include visibility, observability, and encryption of service-to-service communication. More recently, we’ve seen adoption increase for operational benefits that allow them to quickly identify, diagnose and resolve customer-impacting problems.

Q: What do you see for the future of service mesh? How will it help organizations overcome the challenges associated with uncertainty?

A: Service mesh is a new frontier, and despite all the recent attention, is still a nascent market and pattern. This is due to its strategic point of control in application architectures and its ability to operate in a transparent and distributed manner. More and more companies, as they move from proof-of-concept to production with their new application architectures, will come to rely on a service mesh to provide a consistent layer in which they are able to control and manage their services while ensuring that all applications are optimally performing and meeting compliance and security requirements.

As service meshes mature, they will become a critical piece of infrastructure that enables organizations to maximize their true competitive advantage of agility with stability.

If you’re scaling microservices on Kubernetes, it’s worth considering a service mesh to help you get the most out of your distributed systems. To learn more about service mesh, feel free to reach out to our team to schedule a time to meet.