Today, IBM and Google announced the launch of Istio, an open technology that provides a way for developers to seamlessly connect, manage and secure networks of different microservices—regardless of platform, source or vendor.

Istio is the result of a joint collaboration between IBM, Google and Lyft as a means to support traffic flow management, access policy enforcement and the telemetry data aggregation between microservices. It does all this without requiring developers to make changes to application code by building on earlier work from IBM, Google and Lyft.

developerWorksTV report by Scott Laningham.

Istio currently runs on Kubernetes platforms, such as the IBM Bluemix Container Service. Its design, however, is not platform specific. The Istio open source project plan includes support for additional platforms, including CloudFoundry, VMs.

Why we built Istio

We continue to see an increasing number of developers turning to microservices when building their applications. This strategy allows developers to decompose a large application into smaller, more manageable pieces. Although decomposing big applications into smaller pieces is a practice we’ve seen in the field for as long as software has been written, the microservices approach is particularly well suited to developing large scale, continuously available software in the cloud.

We have personally witnessed this trend with our large enterprise clients as they move to the cloud. As microservices scale dynamically, problems such as service discovery, load balancing and failure recovery become increasingly important to solve uniformly. The individual development teams manage and make changes to their microservices independently, making it difficult to keep all of the pieces working together as a single unified application. Often, we see customers build custom solutions to these challenges that are unable to scale even outside of their own teams.

Before combining forces, IBM, Google, and Lyft had been addressing separate, but complementary, pieces of the problem.

  • IBM’s Amalgam8 project, a unified service mesh that was created and open sourced last year, provided a traffic routing fabric with a programmable control plane to help its internal and enterprise customers with A/B testing, canary releases, and to systematically test the resilience of their services against failures.
  • Google’s Service Control provided a service mesh with a control plane that focused on enforcing policies such as ACLs, rate limits and authentication, in addition to gathering telemetry data from various services and proxies.
  • Lyft developed the Envoy proxy to aid their microservices journey, which brought them from a monolithic app to a production system spanning 10,000+ VMs handling 100+ microservices. IBM and Google were impressed by Envoy’s capabilities, performance, and the willingness of Envoy’s developers to work with the community.

It became clear to all of us that it would be extremely beneficial to combine our efforts by creating a first-class abstraction for routing and policy management in Envoy, and expose management plane APIs to control Envoys in a manner that can be easily integrated with CI/CD pipelines. In addition to developing the Istio control plane, IBM also contributed several features to Envoy such as traffic splitting across service versions, distributed request tracing with Zipkin and fault injection. Google hardened Envoy on several aspects related to security, performance, and scalability.

How does it work?

How does Istio work?
Improved visibility into the data flowing in and out of apps, without requiring extensive configuration and reprogramming.

Istio converts disparate microservices into an integrated service mesh by introducing programmable routing and a shared management layer. By injecting Envoy proxy servers into the network path between services, Istio provides sophisticated traffic management controls such as load-balancing and fine-grained routing. This routing mesh also enables the extraction of a wealth of metrics about traffic behavior, which can be used to enforce policy decisions such as fine-grained access control and rate limits that operators can configure. Those same metrics are also sent to monitoring systems. This way, it offers improved visibility into the data flowing in and out of apps, without requiring extensive configuration and reprogramming to ensure all parts of an app work together smoothly and securely.

Once we have control of the communication between services, we can enforce authentication and authorization between any pair of communicating services. Today, the communication is automatically secured via mutual TLS authentication with automatic certificate management. We are working on adding support for common authorization mechanisms as well.

Key partnerships driving open collaboration

We have been working with Tigera, the Kubernetes networking folks who maintain projects like CNI, Calico and flannel, for several months now to integrate advanced networking policies into the IBM Bluemix offerings. As we now look to integrate Istio and Envoy, we are extending that collaboration to include these projects and how we can enable a common policy language for layers 3 through 7.

“It takes more than just open sourcing technology to drive innovation,” said Andy Randall, Tigera co-founder and CEO. “There has to be an open, active multi-vendor community, and as a true believer in the power of open collaboration, IBM is playing an essential role in fostering that community around Kubernetes and related projects including Calico and Istio. We have been thrilled with our partnership and look forward to ongoing collaboration for the benefit of all users of these technologies.”

Key Istio features

  • Automatic zone-aware load balancing and failover for HTTP/1.1, HTTP/2, gRPC, and TCP traffic.
  • Fine-grained control of traffic behavior with rich routing rules, fault tolerance, and fault injection.
  • A pluggable policy layer and configuration API supporting access controls, rate limits and quotas.
  • Automatic metrics, logs and traces for all traffic within a cluster, including cluster ingress and egress.
  • Secure service-to-service authentication with strong identity assertions between services in a cluster.

How to use it today

You can get started with Istio here. We also have a sample application composed of four separate microservices that can be easily deployed and used to demonstrate various features of the Istio service mesh.

Project and collaboration

Istio is an open source project developed by IBM, Google and Lyft. The current version works with Kubernetes clusters, but we will have major releases every few months as we add support for more platforms. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact us on istio-users@googlegroups.com mailing list.

We are excited to see early commitment and support for the project from many companies in the community: Red Hat with Red Hat Openshift and OpenShift Application Runtimes, Pivotal with Pivotal Cloud Foundry, Weaveworks with Weave Cloud and Weave Net 2.0, Tigera with the Project Calico Network Policy Engine. If you are also interested in participating in further development of this open source project, please join us at GitHub. If you are an IBM partner/vendor, we encourage you to build solutions on top of Istio to serve your client’s unique needs. As your clients move from monolithic applications to microservices, they can easily manage complex enterprise level microservices running on Bluemix infrastructure using Istio. Please feel free to reach out to us at istio-users@googlegroups.com if you have any questions.

Further discussion

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this exciting new technology. Find me on Twitter (@jrmcgee). I would love to hear where you see the greatest potential for this technology?

Or how you see this technology affecting the way dev teams view microservices and what you see as the most intriguing benefit of using a service mesh?

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21 comments on"IBM, Google and Lyft give microservices a ride on the Istio Service Mesh"

  1. Good movement from you, Google and Lyft. We use microservices to build applications. Istio is an outstanding step in this regard to help developers for comfortable making.

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