What Is a Service Mesh?

With a service mesh implemented at the platform layer, users can gain much-needed security, reliability, and observability for cloud-native applications.

Digital Quality
12 min
Digital Quality
What Is a Service Mesh?

A necessity. That's a short answer to the question "What is a service mesh?" in the context of cloud-native environments. Currently, adding a service mesh to a cloud-native environment requires a third-party tool. A service mesh creates reliability, security, and observability.

Service meshes are inserted at the platform layer and play a crucial role in the cloud-native tech stack, especially in Kubernetes. Here's what else you need to know apart from a basic answer to "What is a service mesh?"

What Is a Service Mesh's Role?

Cloud-native environments have long presented complexities, but as cloud-native applications have become commonplace, the need for a service mesh has risen. So, what is a service mesh's role in cloud-native environments?

Cloud-native is praised for its ability to support dynamic and highly scalable infrastructure, but that leads to challenges when dealing with cloud-native applications.

A cloud-native application might have hundreds of different services. Within each service, there may be hundreds of instances, and each one could be constantly changing.

Since cloud-native apps consist of so many services, aiding service-to-service communication is fundamental but difficult. A service mesh adds crucial functionality that supports communication between services, like efficiently routing the requests generated by APIs.

Failing to accommodate service-to-service communication can impact behavior, uptime, and reliability. However, with a service mesh implemented at the platform layer, users can gain much-needed security, reliability, and observability for cloud-native applications.

Not so fast, though. Cloud-native in itself is a maze to navigate, so if you need more information before reading on, Adservio's team can help.

Check out this article from our blog about cloud-native applications and the associated security solutions you'll want to explore if you're pursuing them.

What Is a Service Mesh's Importance?

A service mesh helps manage application performance from end to end by providing critical features, like encryption, authentication, load balancing, and service discovery.

Through its many features, a service mesh can improve the security and observability of a cloud-native environment and its applications.

If you're stopping to ask, "What is observability?" you might find our article on full-stack monitoring helpful before reading on. As experts on application performance, the Adservio team can help you find answers to any questions you may have.

Now, knowing the answer to "What is a service mesh's importance?" matters, because having a service mesh integrated also speeds up communication, especially for environments with a large volume of requests between services.

With a low-latency design, a service mesh is ideal for reliably managing communication between containerized applications.

How Does a Service Mesh Work?

Typically, a service mesh is deployed as network proxies that live alongside application code. This configuration is sometimes referred to as a "sidecar."

No matter what you call it when answering the question "What is a service mesh's role?", the service mesh helps services (that is, microservices) communicate with one another.

service mesh architecture, how does service mesh work

Because the service mesh is deployed as a set of sidecar proxies within the platform layer, and not at the application layer, it's highly scalable.

Additionally, the service mesh acts as a control plane that provides insight and management capabilities for services within the cloud environment.

Overall, what is a service mesh's role? A service mesh forms a dedicated infrastructure layer that fulfills multiple roles. For instance, it can take the place of an API gateway and offer traffic management.

It can also log errors, offering crucial information about the time of the issue, number of attempted retries, and so on.

By handling network communication, a service mesh also offers additional business benefits by allowing developers to focus more on business logic rather than dependencies, timeouts, and individual services.

When Is a Service Mesh Necessary?

Containers and microservices are considered valuable for their scalability, flexibility, and groundbreaking approach. However, both elements can bring unsurpassed complexity to a cloud environment. As such, they represent one of the most common applications for implementing a service mesh.

If a cloud environment is dealing with the operational demand and challenges presented by microservices and containers, a service mesh will prove extremely beneficial. Usually, it's not the use of these elements that constitutes the need for a service mesh, but the circumstances in which they're often used.

For instance, the biggest adopters of microservices include Netflix, Twitter, and Lyft. Merely using microservices architecture may not call for a service mesh, but since this architecture is usually implemented in highly demanding environments, a service mesh is often fundamental.

Best Service Mesh Tools

The answer to "What is a service mesh?" wouldn't be complete without an overview of the best service mesh tools.


When Consul added the Connect feature to version 1.2, it officially gained the title of a service mesh. This management framework is feature-rich and supports multiple container platforms, including Kubernetes.

If you choose to use Consul Connect as your service mesh, you'll appreciate that it seamlessly connects to all HashiCorp's infrastructure management tools.

The suite supports multiple data center platforms, which is great for cross-platform users and those striving to avoid vendor lock-in. You can find architecture diagrams and more useful information on the official website.


Linkerd is a popular service mesh for Kubernetes, but this is the only platform it supports. When Linkerd was first launched, the developers prioritized simplicity over flexibility, but that's not all bad.

For Kubernetes users, Linkerd might be an easy choice, because it's the only service mesh backed by an independent foundation: The Cloud Native Foundation (CNCF). The CNCF is responsible for Kubernetes, making it an easy match.

Since Linkerd is built explicitly for Kubernetes, implementation and day-to-day use are easy, creating a highly reliable service mesh. However, if you want to use Linkerd on another platform, you can opt for the less feature-rich version 1, which is still supported, although new features are only available for version 2.


Just like Linkerd, Istio is designed exclusively for Kubernetes. While Linkerd may have the backing of the CNCF, Istio gained traction because it was released by Lyft (an early adopter of microservices and cloud-native apps).

Microsoft, Google, and IBM are just some of the major companies that use Istio as their default service mesh.

In addition to being widely backed by large companies, Istio also gains points for trailblazing service mesh design. Istio began adding features that developers were asking for very early on, which is why it still has some of the best data analytics and metrics of any service mesh tool.

If you like organization, you'll love Istio's control planes, which use smart caching for even faster response and interaction. By running the panels as pods in your cluster, Istio even provides an extra bit of resilience. Ultimately, Istio strives to be the solution that has thought of it all, and it comes close.

Using a Service Mesh in Kubernetes

In most cases, the discussion around "What is a service mesh?" is almost always within the context of a cloud environment running on Kubernetes.

In truth, any cloud environment may call for a service mesh — but only Kubernetes has opened the doors to easy implementation.

If you're using Kubernetes, you can take advantage of the pod model and networking infrastructure, which allows for easy implementation of a service mesh.

In Kubernetes, adding a service mesh will add minimal burden to your current operations, and many tools require no manual configuration whatsoever.

If you're not using Kubernetes, the process grows more complicated. If you don't have Kubernetes pods to ease the implementation process, adding a service mesh can quickly grow difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.

With that said, you can find cross-platform service meshes, but the trick will be weighing the cost and benefits.

How Adservio Can Help

To avoid the worst outcome — which is that your team has to manage hundreds or thousands of service mesh proxies — it's important that you have the right information that goes beyond a simple answer to "What is a service mesh?"

If you're interested in learning how a service mesh could add value, simplicity, and security to your environment, Adservio can help. We have assisted countless companies in bringing observability and reliability to their cloud-native environments.

Now that you know the answer to "What is a service mesh?", you may want to learn more about service meshes and get help making the right decision. If so, contact our team of professionals today.

Published on
January 17, 2022

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