Istio: The Past, Present and Future of the Project and Community

John Howard and I presented about Istio at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America. We explored its past, present, and future through the lens of recent discussions and the roadmap ahead.

In case you missed it, here’s a breakdown of our presentation.

Reflection on the Past Year

The big news that echoes through the Istio community is our recent CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) graduation. The journey has been a long and arduous one. Being surrounded by so many impressive projects at the conference, we’re honored to be in the select few that have graduated. This graduation is a testament to the efforts and contributions of the Istio community.

While Istio itself remained unchanged in code, the stamp of being a CNCF project and a graduated one holds immense significance. It is a signal of maturity and openness that prospective users can rely on when making decisions about adoption.

How We’re Improving Istio

With 6.5 years under its belt, Istio has made its mark, with numerous companies deploying it in production environments. However, we recognize the need to continue to evolve. Our focus is on reducing operational effort, expanding reach, and doing so at a lower resource cost. We aim to be both ‘boring and better’ – those things are not incompatible.

Incremental improvements can come from optimizing existing code. This is often the instinctual approach, but we’re aiming for more significant improvements.

One way to do that is by sharing Envoy proxies, but without increasing complexity. Often when we share something we have to address the complexities of multi-tenancy, problems we wanted to avoid. We wanted to share Envoy while keeping it single tenant, which we’re doing by establishing trust in the network via mTLS. This approach we are calling Ambient Mesh and you can read more about it here.

This innovative approach leads to considerable cost savings, a critical consideration in today’s economically constrained times.

CPU usage

Collaborations with Kubernetes Gateway API

Beyond the focus on Ambient Mesh, Istio is actively collaborating with the Kubernetes community on the Gateway API. This API, now GA in Kubernetes, redefines traffic routing and management in Kubernetes APIs, marking a significant step in the evolution of networking APIs.

There’s a big ecosystem around this project. For practitioners, developing skills in these APIs will translate into understanding different infrastructures, contexts, and standards, which is valuable for continued learning as a developer.

Istio’s collaboration includes adding mesh support to the Gateway API, ensuring its applicability not only in Ingress use cases, but also within the mesh.

Istio Community and Testing

There are more than 600 active contributors in the Istio community across 120 companies. 200 of those contributors are new in the past year. Microsoft has recently invested heavily in Istio, as well.

We continue to enhance and test features, including moving external authorization, Helm installation, canary upgrade and revision tags, WorkloadGroup, and distroless to beta, as well as moving dual stack support to experimental. We’re enhancing security with a formal audit and more fuzz testing. We’ve also expanded our reach with ARM support.

Looking Forward

As we look to the future, our primary goal is to keep Istio boring. We don’t want you waking up at 3 am to deal with an outage. We also want to bring mesh to more users with less cost and compromise.

Integration with existing standards and CNCF projects, such as OpenTelemetry, Prometheus, Argo, Flux, and SPIRE, is a key focus area for deeper and more seamless connections.

The team is keen to involve more individuals, whether as contributors, users, or even critics, recognizing the diverse perspectives that drive meaningful improvements. The future of this project is due to the invaluable contributions, feedback, and engagement of this community.

Get Involved

We’re always looking for more people to get involved. Whether you’re a seasoned contributor or a new user, there are numerous ways to engage. Slack channels, contribution sessions, and an ongoing survey provide avenues to join discussions, offer feedback, and play a role in shaping Istio’s trajectory.

Istio’s journey continues to unfold, and the collaborative spirit of the community remains at the heart of Istio’s success. Thanks for being a part of it.