Jumping Into The Deep End

Everything You Need to Know About Istio and When You Need It

As we emerge into the bold new era of synthesizing, utilizing and ‘mish mashing’ cloud development tools for the benefit of our organizations, DevOps teams can’t help feeling overwhelmed by the perplexing entanglement of microservices, operators and other buzz terms like ‘multi-cloud deployment’ options. To make matters worse, budding app management departments must use microservices to architect for portability–while operators must be able to manage extremely large and hybridized multi-cloud deployments. Understanding and managing these tools simultaneously is bound to make DevOps teams rip out their hair at night. Nevertheless, there is a grand equilibrium to resolving these problems of complexity— and that’s Istio.

Besides creating a service mesh, Istio provides the following features:

  • Automatic secure mutual TLS provides end-to-endencryption within a cluster–allowing for  authorization and authentication.
  • Load balancing for TCP, HTTP, WebSockets, and gRPC. Kubernetes out-of-the-box does not provide WebSocket and gRPC load balancing.
  • Network traffic control including rules, failovers, fault inject and retries. Also, application rate limiting, access controls and quotas are supported.
  • Full logging, metrics and tracing for all traffic that is handled by Istio.

At a base level, Istio enables organizations to connect, secure, control and observe services by simplifying the complexity of its cloud-app deployment workflow. Istio has quickly garnered fame for helping reduce the complexity of deployments in the DevOps space, ultimately easing the strain on development teams. What’s even more convenient? Istio is a completely open-source service mesh, allowing you to layer its architecture onto existing distributed applications. In contrast to the large pool of DevOps service meshes, Istio also functions as a platform, including a large assortment of APIs that can [basically] integrate into any logging platform, or telemetry or policy system.

Istio’s mission is clear: Allowing DevOps management teams to successfully, and more  efficiently, run distributed microservice architectures–providing a consistent and uniform way of securing, connecting and monitoring those microservices at hand. However, Istio is not a one-size-fits-all platform/service-mesh, so let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of warning signs that you might need to integrate it into your DevOps environment:

Warning Sign:  Influx of Applications and/or Microservices

One of the most critical criteria that qualifies you for Istio integration is when your team starts to get microservice sprawl. Once the number of microservices grows past a number, usually around 100, then you literally have a sea of microservices.  The management of all these services becomes a juggling and operational nightmare. Enforcing policies across all of our services can be nearly impossible or put an enormous strain on your staff.

Istio automatically injects functionality into your services so there is no need to enforce say mutual TLS.  It just works out-of-the-box.

●    Managing Hybrid Clusters

Istio allows organizations to streamline the logistics of controlling multiple environments through containerization or virtualization. A very well known use case, this is admittedly one of the most complex to implement effectively and efficiently.

Mixed adapters essentially serve as an abstraction layer between both Istio and an open-ended set of infrastructure backends. Mixed adapters essentially allow DevOps teams to integrate new services within the mesh that can interact with these backends, while not being forcibly coupled to the backends’ specific interfaces. To put it simply, Istio allows you to insulate application-level code from the details of infrastructure backends, ensuring that there is no interference between the two.

In addition to the abstraction layer that Mixed adapters provide, the Mixer also allows you to control policies between application code and backends. Amazingly, operators in your DevOps teams can control which data is reported to which backend, which backend to consult for authorization, etc.

●    Security and Flexible Traffic Management

At this point, it’s already clear that Istio’s is a go-to platform in the DevOps space as Traffic Management and Security are the primary use cases for using Istio. Istio takes it a step forward with highly flexible traffic management and routing rules. Istio is able to direct traffic using route rules through already-configured properties that you set on the platform.

In other words, Istio’s traffic management features allow you to easily regulate the flow of traffic and API calls between services. Istio simplifies the configuration and settings of service-level properties (e.g. circuit breakers, timeouts, and retries), making it effortless to set up important tasks like A/B testing, rollouts into production, percentage-based traffic splits, etc. As that sounds pretty overwhelming, Istio’s traffic configuration panel all boils down into simplifying your traditional DevOps traffic controllers.

When perplexed with complex and time-consuming traffic management tools, Istio downsizes and simplifies that process within a mere couple minutes of setup.

●    Observability

When struggling with precise metrics and monitoring of your application deployments under your status quo DevOps platform, Istio simplifies and reduces the additional burdens of telemetry (i.e. gathered data on the use and performance of apps). Using its mesh architecture, Istio is able to generate detailed telemetry for all service communications. This convenience of increased telemetry offers observability of service behavior–empowering operators and managers to troubleshoot, maintain, and optimize their applications.

According to Istio’s documentation page, various telemetry data extracted by their mesh services include the following:

●    Seamless Injection

The Istio functionality is injected into your applications automatically.  When an application is deployed on Kubernetes, Istio injects a sidecar into the pod.  A sidecar running Envoy is injected as a container that provides the Istio functionality to your application.  Your development team does not have to change their Kubernetes Deployments, because Istio injects the sidecar when your applications are deployed.

Regarding scalability and a simplification of the traditional app management tools, Istio empowers operators with the ability to control distributed clusters, manage traffic more efficiently, and increase observability through improved telemetry data.

Istio provides useful features for managing large numbers of microservices, but it is not painless and it does come at a cost of complexity. Small deployments may be better off without it.

The next step for a rising DevOps operator is to determine if they need more control over their environment, while still maintaining simplicity. If you need the contrast of advanced management features and convenient simplicity, Istio is right in your ballpark.

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