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Istio moves to the CNCF – Service Mesh’s Past, Present and Future

Idit Levine | April 25, 2022

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” – Bill Gates

It’s now been nearly five years since the launch of Istio, which means we’re halfway through our underestimation of what’s possible. And if the next five years are an acceleration of where we are today, the future of the Istio project is going to produce some amazing results. 

Solo.io and our customers are thrilled that Istio will now be part of the CNCF. Our Gloo Mesh customers already run some of the largest production service mesh environments, and they trust Istio for their business critical workloads. This announcement removes any concerns they have about the future of Istio. Istio has become the de facto service mesh standard in the same way Kubernetes became the standard for container orchestration.

 

 

Where we sit today, in 2022, Istio is being used to power some amazing things. While Istio can be a complex topic to explain to anyone not working in our industry, I like to use “a day in the life” analogy to explain to friends and neighbors where we are today. 

  • When I wake up, I check my email. Undoubtedly, there will be a few dozen emails offering me promotions. 
  • Driving into the office, I’ll stop by my favorite fast-food place and grab breakfast, with a few clicks on my mobile app. I pay for it using my favorite credit card. 
  • As I approach the office, I pay for my parking space using another mobile app, which notifies me if I need to avoid a ticket throughout the day. 
  • Once I get in the office, I usually have to approve a few expense reports, since we’re now back to in-person meetings and events. 
  • During lunch, I file an online insurance claim and search around for a new couch and end table for the house. 
  • On the drive home, I’ll send the babysitter an online payment and a smiling face emoji.

 

In one way or another, Istio is powering all of these services – and 1,000s more like it. Internet-scale services; Personalized services; Real-time services; Regulated services. 

Knowing that Solo is helping some of the largest companies in the world deliver their digital experiences using Istio is a very proud moment. They are making the complexity of connecting, securing, and observing their experiences work at scale, seamlessly behind the scenes. And if the list of roadmapped things they want us to help them with next is any indication, the next few years are going to blow away how far we’ve come so far!

 

 

But the path to how we, the community, got to this 5 year mark was definitely not a straight line. And it wasn’t without its bumps in the road. 

Like many people, I was in attendance at CloudNativeCon | KubeCon in Austin, TX at the end of 2017 (it snowed in Texas, remember!). I had just founded Solo.io and was focused on delivering API services on top of Kubernetes. But Istio and Envoy Proxy had just launched, and all anyone at the show wanted to talk about was service mesh. Kubernetes was the center of the CNCF universe at the time, but that show might as well have been called “ServiceMeshCon”. And the Kubernetes community made it clear that they had learned from previous projects and were going to allow service mesh functionality to be an independent project from Kubernetes. Leaving Austin that week, it was clear to me that service mesh was going to be an important part of the cloud-native stack. But it wasn’t clear which service mesh implementation would be the winner in the market. At the time, Istio was one of several competing implementations. So Solo originally decided to think about ways to manage a world that might have multiple service mesh standards — and our initial efforts were two-pronged:

  1. We believed that Istio would eventually win, because it had a broader backing of community developers than any other project. So we began to build up our expertise in Istio. We began contributing to Istio and Envoy and participating in those communities.
  2. We began working with Microsoft and others on what would become the Service Mesh Interface (SMI) specification, for a world that would have multiple service meshes.

 

 

Fast forward a year and we were launching our first service mesh management platform, “Super Gloo”, which would eventually become Gloo Mesh Enterprise v1.0. We began working with companies around the world that were adding Istio to their Kubernetes environments. Some ran on OpenShift, some ran on Rancher, and others ran on EKS, AKS, or GKE. It quickly became clear to us that Istio was the only service mesh architecture that could meet the complex needs (security, scaling, resiliency) needed by enterprise companies and fast-growing software startups. By early 2020, even with all the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19, we were all-in and focused on making Istio successful. 

 

 

At Solo, we’re committed to innovation around both the Istio and Envoy communities. Through our participation in the Istio Steering Committee and Technical Oversight Committee, we’re not only able to improve Istio, but also bring new innovations to many parts of the stack (e.g. WASM, GraphQL, eBPF, etc.). We’ve been able to train nearly 10,000 engineers about Istio in our Solo Academy, and we expect many more will want to learn about Istio as it becomes the de facto service mesh standard in the industry. 

The last five years of the Istio journey have been extremely exciting, but the best is yet to come! With inclusion in the CNCF, we expect to see Istio adoption continue to accelerate, and we expect to see new innovation accelerate as well. Enjoy IstioCon 2022 this week, and we’ll see you at KubeCon EU in Valencia in May. 

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