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Istio: a modern approach to developing and managing microservices

May 24, 2017
Varun Talwar

Product Manager, Cloud Service Platform

Today Google, IBM and Lyft announced the alpha release of Istio: a new open-source project that provides a uniform way to help connect, secure, manage and monitor microservices.

Istio encapsulates many of the best practices Google has been using to run massive-scale services in production for years. We're happy to contribute this to the community as an open solution that works with Kubernetes; on-premises or in any cloud, to help solve challenges in modern application development. Istio provides developers and devops fine-grained visibility and control over traffic without requiring any changes to application code and provides CIOs and CSOs the tools needed to help enforce security and compliance requirements across the enterprise.

"Based on years of practical experience running container-based systems and working with enterprise clients, I've found that as developers adopt microservice architectures, they need a consistent way to connect, secure and manage the applications they are building", said Jason McGee, IBM Fellow, VP and CTO, IBM Cloud Platform. “IBM is thrilled to be joining forces with Google to launch the Istio project and give cloud developers the tools they need to turn disparate microservices into an integrated service mesh.”

Moving from monolithic apps to microservices
As monolithic applications are decomposed into microservices, teams have to worry about the challenges inherent in integrating services in distributed systems: they must account for service discovery, load balancing, fault tolerance, end-to-end monitoring, dynamic routing for feature experimentation and, perhaps most important of all, compliance and security.

How Istio helps
Istio is a layer of infrastructure between a service and the network that gives operators the controls they need and frees developers from having to solve distributed system problems in their code. This uniform layer of infrastructure combined with service deployments is commonly referred to as a service mesh. Istio is designed to run in any environment on any cloud, but we're starting our journey on Kubernetes. It only takes a single command to install Istio on any Kubernetes cluster, creating a service mesh that enables:

  • Automatic load balancing for HTTP, gRPC, and TCP traffic
  • Fine-grained control of traffic behavior with rich routing rules
  • Traffic encryption, service-to-service authentication and strong identity assertions
  • Fleet-wide policy enforcement
  • In-depth telemetry and reporting
The service mesh empowers operators with policy control and decouples them from feature development and release processes, providing centralized management regardless of the scale and velocity of applications. Google has been realizing the benefits of a service mesh for over a decade, to offer global-scale reliable services like YouTube and Gmail, Cloud PubSub and Cloud BigTable.

Google's experience is that having a uniform substrate for developing and operating microservices is critical to our ability to scale while maintaining both feature velocity and reliability

Eric Brewer, Vice President, Google Cloud

An open community

To learn more about Istio and the problems it addresses, visit the Istio launch blog post. Istio is being developed in the open on GitHub, and we invite the community to join us in shaping the project as we work toward a 1.0 release later this year. We look forward to working with the community in making Istio production ready and working everywhere.

Google Cloud is committed to open-source, whether it’s bringing new technologies in the open like Kubernetes or gRPC; contributing to projects like Envoy; or supporting open-source tools on Google Cloud Platform. Istio is the latest instance of Google's continuing contribution to open-source as part of a collaborative community effort.

Beyond Istio

Istio is just one piece of a solution to help make microservices easier to build, deploy, consume and manage. In large enterprises with diverse environments and widespread use of third-party software, developers also want to discover, instantiate and consume services in a platform-agnostic way. Developers providing services need faster time-to-market, greater reach and a simple way to track usage and costs. Towards this end, we've been working with the open source community to contribute to the Open Service Broker, a unified API that simplifies service delivery and consumption. Through the Open Service Broker model CIOs can define a catalog of services which may be used within their enterprise and auditing tools to enforce compliance. All services powered by Istio will be able to seamlessly participate in the Service Broker ecosystem.

Looking ahead

Today, you can manually install and use Istio on Google Container Engine; in the future, we intend to provide a more automated and integrated experience.

We also intend to bring Istio capabilities to Cloud Endpoints and Apigee suite of products. This will provide common visibility and management for both APIs and microservices for organizations of any size. As we work with the community to harden Istio for production-readiness, we plan to provide deeper integration with the rest of Google Cloud.

Get started 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. In case of issues you can reach out via the istio-users@googlegroups.com mailing-list or file an issue on GitHub. If you’d like to build an integration with Istio, please fill out this form. We're excited about the future of microservices and API development built on Istio and Google Cloud.

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