Observed No. 6 - Service Meshes

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Welcome to the sixth edition of Observed! Your weekly newsletter, where I bring you a tip you can implement in your infrastructure across many categories like AWS, Terraform and General DevOps practices. This week’s edition looks at service meshes.

What is a service mesh?

A service mesh is dedicated infrastructure for managing service-to-service communication within a microservices architecture. It provides a way to manage the complex network of microservices by adding a layer of abstraction between the services and the underlying network.

In a service mesh architecture, each service instance has a sidecar proxy that manages the communication between services. The proxies handle low-level network traffic, including load balancing, service discovery, traffic routing, and security.

The service mesh provides a centralised platform for managing and monitoring the communication between services. It provides a way to configure and manage the communication between services without the need to modify the services themselves. The service mesh can also offer advanced features such as circuit breaking, rate limiting, and observability that can help improve the reliability and performance of the microservices architecture.

What are the key benefits of a service mesh?

  1. Traffic management and load balancing: Service meshes provide a way to automatically route traffic between services, distribute load, and implement traffic shaping strategies, such as canary deployments, blue/green deployments, and A/B testing.
  2. Service discovery: Service meshes provide a centralised platform for discovering and managing the network of microservices. The mesh can automatically detect new services as they deploy and provide a way to route traffic to those services.
  3. Observability and tracing: Service meshes provide a way to monitor and trace traffic flow between services, which can help identify performance bottlenecks and troubleshoot issues.
  4. Security: Service meshes can provide security features such as mutual TLS, authentication, and authorisation to ensure that communication between services is secure and encrypted.

Simplified deployment and management: Service meshes provide a way to manage the network of microservices in a centralised platform, which can simplify deployment, configuration, and management of the microservices architecture, reducing the complexity of managing many services and ensuring that the architecture is consistent and reliable.

Implementations of a service mesh

There are many different products on the market, most of which are open source, that provide part or all of the features described above for a service mesh. The most common ones include the following:

  1. Istio: Istio is an open-source service mesh platform that provides traffic management, security, and observability features. It is designed to be vendor-neutral and integrates with Kubernetes, Docker, and other container orchestrators.
  2. Linkerd: Linkerd is an ultralight service mesh for Kubernetes and other cloud-native environments. It provides features such as traffic management, service discovery, and observability which is designed to be easy to deploy and manage.
  3. Consul: Consul is a service mesh platform from HashiCorp that provides service discovery, configuration, and segmentation. It can also provide traffic management and security features designed to work with multiple deployment environments, including Kubernetes, VMs, and bare metal.
  4. AWS App Mesh: AWS App Mesh is a service mesh platform that provides traffic management, observability, and security features for applications deployed on Amazon Web Services (AWS). It supports both containerised and non-containerised applications and can be integrated with other AWS services.

Do I need a service mesh?

Service meshes are most beneficial when you have a decent amount of services in your microservices architecture. However, implementing a service mesh can add complexity and overhead and may not be necessary for smaller architectures. If you only have a small number of services, you can manage them using more straightforward tools and techniques. The exact threshold on when to implement a service mesh will depend on the specific use case.

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Stuart Blackler is a seasoned technologist with over 15 years of commercial experience in the .NET ecosystem. Holding a degree in Computer Science, Stuart has earned certifications as a C# developer through Microsoft and as an AWS Solutions Architect and Developer. Stuart is the creator of the popular YouTube channel CodeWithStu, where he delves into topics close to his heart, including .NET, AWS, DevOps, and software architecture with a commitment to sharing knowledge and fostering a community of learners.