Istio Service Mesh Pattern
Microservices Architecture (MSA) has given enterprise architects many challenges while offering outweighing number of advantages. It is easy to start with and with the number of services increases and the functionality is getting more and more granular, managing the services and their interactions become complex. Microservices communicate in 3 different ways
- Ingress traffic (requests coming from external clients)
- Inter service traffic (requests coming from another microservice)
- Egress traffic (requests going out to an external service)
The above mentioned different types of communication can happen either synchronously or asynchronously over different protocols. Some of them are
- HTTP 1.1/2
Managing these different forms of communications within a complex microservices architecture has become a major problem which needs to be solved when adopting a microservices strategy. The solution for this complex problem is the “Service Mesh” which is a “Network of microservices which are communicated with each other, with external systems over standard protocols”. Service Meshes contains 2 layers where each layer performs a selected set of functionality.
- Data plane — is responsible for communication across microservices as well as ingress and egress traffic
- Control plane — provides control over networking of microservices and their interactions
Istio is a service mesh technology which supports both data plane and control plane functionality with a platform independent manner. It can run with infrastructures like kubernetes, nomad and consul.
Service Mesh architecture consists of side car proxies which are running by the side of each microservice. These proxies intercept all the requests coming into a microservice as well as going out of the same.
The above figure explains a lot of details in one picture. Some of the concepts used here are directly related to kubernetes. But you can use the same architecture with other supported platforms as well.
At the top of the picture you can find 2 microservices which are deployed in containers within kubernetes platform as pods. These pods contains another component alongside the microservice which is the envoy proxy which acts as the data plane within the Istio service mesh. This pod is then exposed as a kubernetes service. There are 2 kubernetes services depicted in the above picture.
- helloworld service — expose via 9095 port
- test service — expose via 9095 port
In addition to the data plane, there are 4 main control plane components depicted in the above picture. Those are
- Mixer — Which collects attributes from envoy proxies and enforce policy checks and collect telemetry information. If you need to extend the functionality of the mixer, you can write a mixer adapter which can process this metadata and do additional policy enforcements and analytics
- Pilot — It provides functionalities like service discovery, configuration of error handling and routing
- Citadel — This provides the service to service security (mTLS) as well as end user authentication (JWT) capabilities
- Galley — This is a tool which validated the istio configurations and inject them to proxies and distribute within the service mesh
How it works in runtime
Once the Istio SM is up and running with the above mentioned components, let’s see how the communication between different components happen. There are mainly 3 scenarios.
A message going from testservice to helloworld service
Let’s consider a scenario where testservice needs to communicate to helloworld service. Given that both services are exposed as kubernetes services, they can talk to each other using service name as host name. The endpoint URL which testservice calls within it would be
When the request is made from testservice, it will first go through the envoy proxy within its pod and then connect to envoy proxy within the helloworld service and then it will be forwarded to the helloworld service. When the two envoy proxies are communicated with each other over the network, proxy on the testservice pod will push some attributes to the mixer for runtime policy checks. If those policy checks are successful only, the request will be sent to the envoy proxy on the helloworld service side.
A message coming from external client to helloworld service (ingress traffic)
The other scenario is the most common case where an external application which resides outside the service mesh wanted to communicate with a microservice. This type of traffic is called as “ingress”. In kubernetes, it uses an ingress controller to accept all the ingress traffic towards a kubernetes cluster. Similarly, in istio, it has extended the ingress controller functionality to its own concepts called a “gateway” and a “virtual service”. When istio is started, it starts up a set of pods called “ingress-gateway” which can accept traffic coming from external clients. These ingress-gateway pods can be configured using a “gateway” configuration which specifies the protocol and the port which is exposed to external clients. Then this gateway needs to be configured to route the traffic to respective services within the service mesh using a “virtual service” where you can define context paths and the destination URLs for routing ingress traffic.
If an external client wants to connect to helloworld service, it can send the request to following URL
This request will be accepted by the envoy proxy within the ingress-gateway pod and then forwarded into the helloworld kubernetes service. Within the helloworld service pod, it will first received by the envoy proxy and then forwarded to microservice.
A message going out from a microservice to an external service (egress traffic)
If a microservice within the service mesh wanted to send a message to a service which lives outside the service mesh, then it can choose 2 options.
- Use an egress gateway and send the request through that In this scenario, request will be intercepted by an envoy proxy runnnig within the egress gateway. It is similar to the way we have configured the ingress gateway with gateway and virtual service.
- Call the backend URL directly from the microservice In this, requests will be directly going from microservice via the envoy proxy within the same pod to external URLs.
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