What is a service mesh? It’s an infrastructure layer that helps you manage the communication between your microservices.

What is a service mesh

Designed to handle a high volume of service-to-service communications using APIs, a service mesh ensures that communication among your containerized application services is fast, reliable and secure. 

A service mesh helps address many of the challenges that arise when your application is being consumed by your end users. The ability to monitor what services are communicating with each other, knowing if those communications are secure, and being able to control the service-to-service communication in your clusters is key to ensuring your applications are running securely and resiliently. You can think about service mesh as being the lexicon, API and implementation around the next tier of communication patterns for microservices.

Service Mesh Capabilities and Patterns

Some of the capabilities that a service mesh provides include service discovery, load balancing, encryption, observability, traceability, authentication and authorization, and the ability to control policy and configuration in your Kubernetes clusters. 

A service mesh sits at Layer 7, managing and securing traffic between your network and application, unlocking some patterns essential for healthy microservices. Some of these patterns include:

  • Zero-trust security that doesn’t assume a trusted perimeter
  • Tracing that shows you how and why every microservice communicated with another microservice
  • Fault injection and tolerance that lets you experimentally verify the resilience of your application
  • Advanced routing that lets you do things like A/B testing, rapid versioning and deployment and request shadowing

Check out these FAQs for answers to more general questions.


What Does a Service Mesh Provide?

A service mesh keeps your company’s services running the way they should. Service meshes designed for the enterprise, like Aspen Mesh, gives you all the observability, security and traffic management you need — plus access to configuration and policy patterns and expert support, so you can focus on adding the most value to your business.

A service mesh can provide many benefits: Security, reliability, observability, engineering efficiency/reduced burden, more holistic insights, operational control, and better tools for your DevOps team. The four main benefits that a service mesh provides include:

  1. Observability: A service mesh takes system monitoring a step further by providing observability. Monitoring reports overall system health, while observability focuses on highly granular insights into the behavior of systems along with rich context. 
  2. Security: A service mesh provides security features aimed at securing the services inside your network and quickly identifying any compromising traffic entering your cluster. 
  3. Operational control: A service mesh allows security and platform teams to set the right macro controls to enforce access controls, while allowing developers to make customizations they need to move quickly within these guardrails.
  4. A better user experience: A service mesh removes the burden of managing infrastructure from the developer, and provides developer-friendly features. But on top of that, the security and reliability that you get from a service mesh creates a smoother, better experience for your end users while they’re using your systems or application. Building trust with your customers is invaluable.

Service mesh is new enough that codified standards have yet to emerge, but there is enough experience that some best practices are becoming clear. As early adopters develop their own approaches, it is often useful to compare notes and distill best practices. We’ve seen Kubernetes emerge as the standard way to run containers for production web applications. Standards are emergent rather than forced: It’s definitely a fine art to be neither too early nor too late to agree on common APIs, protocols and concepts.


When Do You Need a Service Mesh?

A service mesh provides a great way to help you manage microservices. But how do you know when it’s the right time to adopt one? The answer is that it depends on your needs, but many companies we’ve worked with start needing a service mesh when they run into one or a combination of three things:

  1. You’re starting to run too many microservices for you to effectively manage based on team size or skills
  2. You want to free up application developers from managing infrastructure so they can spend more time adding business value to applications
  3. Your’e scaling or committed to scaling applications on Kubernetes

So how do you make sure that you and your end users get the most out of your applications and services? You need to have the right kind of access, security and support. If that’s true, then you’ve probably realized that microservices come with their own unique challenges, such as: 

  • Increased surface area that can be attacked 
  • Polyglot challenges 
  • Controlling access for distributed teams developing on a single application 

These are all scenarios where a service mesh shines. Service meshes are great at solving operational challenges and issues when running containers and microservices because they provide a uniform and highly observable way to secure, connect and monitor microservices. 

On a broader tech landscape level, we’ve been thinking about how microservices change the requirements from network infrastructure for a few years now. The swell of support and uptake for Istio demonstrated to us that there’s a community ready to develop and coalesce on policy specs, with a well-architected implementation to go along with it.

Thanks for reading! Check out Service Mesh University to learn more about service mesh at your own pace through an on-demand, video series.