Power

With Open Service Mesh, Microsoft takes direct aim at Google’s Istio

Microsoft's latest open-source project will be transferred to a foundation at the earliest opportunity — a developer-pleasing move Google avoided to retain control of its similar software.

Microsoft building

Microsoft's Open Service Mesh is a new open-source project designed to help companies manage the ever-increasing complexity of building applications in a modular way.

Photo: Courtesy of Microsoft

More than a year after declaring itself a neutral party in the emerging service-mesh arena, Microsoft will release its own open-source take on the technology Wednesday — while not-so-subtly tweaking its cloud rival Google in the process.

Microsoft's Open Service Mesh is a new open-source project designed to help companies manage the ever-increasing complexity of building applications in a modular way — a modern architectural concept known as microservices. It was designed as a "lighter-weight" version of Istio, the Google-backed project that addresses the same need, said Gabe Monroy, director of product management for Microsoft Azure.

That's not the only thing about Open Service Mesh that's different from Istio: Microsoft plans to transfer the project to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation as soon as possible, Monroy said. Google's back-and-forth regarding its governance plans for Istio has been a hot topic over the last year, as the company has sought to retain control of that project.

Modern software development moves fast. Developers are under immense pressure to ship code early and often, which not only allows companies to introduce new features at a steady clip, but also makes it possible to fix bugs and solve problems much faster than older cadences allowed.

Microservices are one method used to achieve that velocity while ensuring reliability. In contrast to a so-called "monolith," microservices allow developers to break applications down into lots of smaller parts that can be tweaked and updated without causing problems to unrelated parts of the application.

But the benefits of microservices are balanced by the complexity of managing all those separate parts and making sure traffic flows smoothly between them. Service meshes have emerged as a solution to that problem, and there are now several companies, including Google, HashiCorp, Buoyant and Solo.io, all jockeying for position to take advantage of the increasing popularity of microservices.

Last year Microsoft said it intended to be the Switzerland of service meshes, introducing a concept called the Service Mesh Interface that helped its customers use the service mesh of their choice on Azure. Yet Monroy said customers wanted a less-complex version of Istio — one that still worked with the container project Kubernetes and Envoy, another open-source project developed by Lyft that addresses a piece of the microservices puzzle, but was easier to use. So, Microsoft built one.

Assuming the Open Service Mesh is accepted by the CNCF, the subset of the Linux Foundation formed around Kubernetes in 2015, the organization would control the governance and trademark policies of several projects in this space, including Envoy and Linkerd (built by Buoyant).

At one point, Google told its Istio partners that it would transfer control of that project to the CNCF at some point, but surprised and angered those partners late last year when it reneged on that vow. Google has since pledged to transfer Istio's trademarks to a neutral holding company, but open-source and trademark experts are not exactly sure what to make of Google's new Open Usage Commons.

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