At the beginning of last year, we predicted the top three developments around service mesh in 2020 would be:

  1. A quickly growing need for service mesh
  2. Istio will be hard to beat
  3. Core service mesh use cases will emerge that will be used as models for the next wave of adopters

And we were right about all three, as evidenced by what we learned at IstioCon.

As a new community-led event, IstioCon 2021 provided the first organized opportunity for Istio’s community members to gather together on a large, worldwide scale, to present, learn and discuss the many features and benefits of the Istio service mesh. And this event was a resounding success.

With over 4,000 attendees — in its first year, and as a virtual event — IstioCon attendance exceeded expectations by multiples. The event showcased the lessons learned from running Istio in production, first-hand experiences from the Istio community, and featured maintainers from across the Istio ecosystem including Lin Sun, John Howard, Christian Posta, Neeraj Poddar, and more. With sessions presented across five days in English, as well as keynotes and sessions in Chinese, this was indeed a worldwide effort. It is well-known that the Istio community reaches far and wide, but it was fantastic to see that so many people interested in, considering, and even using Istio in production at scale were ready to show up and share.

But apart from the outstanding response of the Istio community, we were particularly excited to dig into what people are really using this service mesh for and how they’re interacting with it. So, we’ve pulled together the below curated list of top Istio trends, hot topics, and our top three list of sessions you don’t want to miss.

Top 3 Istio Service Mesh Trends to Watch

After watching each session (so you don’t have to!), we’ve distilled the top three service mesh and Istio industry takeaways that came out of IstioCon that you should keep on your radar.

1. Istio is production-ready. No longer just a shiny new object, this nascent technology has transformed over the past few years from a new infrastructure technology into the microservices management technology that people are using, now, in production and at scale at real companies. We saw insightful user story presentations from T-Mobile, Airbnb, eBay, Salesforce, FICO, and more.

2. Istio is more versatile than you thought. Did you know that Istio is being used right now by users and companies to manage everything from user-facing applications like Airbnb to behind-the-scenes infrastructure like running 5G?

3. Istio and Kubernetes have a lot in common. There are lots of similarities between Istio and Kubernetes in terms of how these technologies have developed, and how they are being adopted. It’s well known that Kubernetes is “the defacto standard for cloud native applications.” Istio is being called ”the most popular service mesh” according to the CNCF annual user survey. But more than this, the two are growing closer together in terms of the technologies themselves. We look forward to the growth of both technologies.

Top 3 Hot Topics

In addition to higher level industry trends, there were many other hot topics that surfaced as part of this conference. From security to Wasm, multicluster, integrations, policies, ORAS, and more, there is a lot going on in the service mesh marketplace that many folks may not have realized. Here are the three hot topics we’d like you to know about:

1. Mulitcluster. You can configure a single mesh to include multiple clusters. Using a multicluster deployment within a single mesh affords capabilities beyond that of a single cluster deployment, including fault isolation and fail over, location-aware routing, various control plane models, and team or project isolation. It was indeed a hot topic at IstioCon, with an entire workshop devoted to Istio Multicluster, plus two additional individual sessions and a dedicated office-hours session about multicluster.

2. Wasm. WebAssembly (Wasm) is a sandboxing technology that can be used to extend the Istio proxy (Envoy). The Proxy-Wasm sandbox API replaces Mixer as the primary extension mechanism in Istio. Over the past year, Wasm has come further to the forefront in terms of interest, as seen here by garnering two sessions plus its own office-hours session.

3. Security. Let’s face it, we’re all concerned about security, and with good reason. Istio has decided to face security challenges head on, and while not exactly a new topic, it’s one worth reiterating. The Istio Product Security Working Group had a session, plus we saw two more sessions featuring security as a headliner, and a dedicated office-hours session. 

Side note: Aspen Mesh had a tie with one another hot topic; debugging Istio. If you get a chance, check out the three recorded sessions on debugging as well.

Top 3 Sessions You Will Want to Watch On-demand

Not everyone has time to watch a conference for five days in a row. And that’s ok. There are about 77 sessions we wish you could watch, but we’ve also identified the top three we think you’ll get the most out of. Check these out:

1. Using Istio to Build the Next Generation 5G Platform. As the most-watched session at this event, we have to start here. In this session, Aspen Mesh’s Co-founder and Chief Architect Neeraj Poddar and David Lenrow, Senior Principal Cloud Security Architect at Verizon, covered what 5G is and why it matters, architecture options with Istio, platform requirements, security, and more.

2. User story from Salesforce – The Salesforce Service Mesh: Our Istio Journey. In this session, Salesforce Software Architect Pratima Nambiar talked us through their background around why they needed a service mesh, their initial implementation, Istio’s value, progressive adoption of Istio, and features they are watching and expect to adopt. 

3. User story from eBay – Istio at Scale: How eBay is Building a Massive Multitenant Service Mesh Using Istio. In this session, Sudheendra Murthy covered eBay’s story, from their applications deployment to service mesh journey, scale testing, and future direction.

What’s Next for Istio?

We were excited to be part of this year’s IstioCon, and it was wonderful to see the Istio community come together for this new event. As our team members have been key contributors to the Istio project over the past few years, we’ve had a front row seat at the growth of the project itself along with the community.

To learn more about what the Istio project has coming up on the horizon, check out this project roadmap session. We’re looking forward to the continued growth of this open source technology, so that more companies — and people — can benefit from what it has to offer.