What is a Service Mesh and How Does it Compare to Kubernetes

A service mesh, such as the open source project Istio, is a method of controlling how different parts of an application share data. A service mesh, in contrast to other systems for managing this communication, is a dedicated infrastructure layer built directly into an app. This visible infrastructure layer can record how well (or poorly) different parts of an app interact, making it easier to optimize communication and avoid downtime as the app grows.

As more organizations adopt microservices architecture, managing the complex interactions between these services can become a significant challenge. Service mesh and Kubernetes are two solutions that deal with this issue in different ways. This article will explain what a service mesh is and how it compares from Kubernetes.

What is a Service Mesh?

A service mesh is a dedicated infrastructure layer that manages service-to-service communication within a microservices architecture. It includes features such as traffic management, service discovery, load balancing, security, and observability. Service mesh achieves this by inserting a proxy, also known as a sidecar, next to each service instance, which manages communication between services.

A Service Mesh is implemented as a set of proxies that are deployed alongside application code. These proxies act as middlemen, intercepting and managing all incoming and outgoing traffic between services. Proxies are typically implemented using open-source projects such as Envoy, Linkerd, or Istio.

With a Service Mesh, you may separate the application's business logic from observability and network and security policies. You can use the Service Mesh to connect, secure, and monitor your microservices.

  • Connect  A Service Mesh allows services to discover and communicate with one another. It provides for more efficient routing of traffic and API calls between services/endpoints.

  • Secure  A Service Mesh provides dependable communication between services. A Service Mesh can be used to enforce policies that allow or refuse the connection. For example, you can configure a system to prevent a client service running in a development environment from accessing production services.

  • Monitor Service Mesh makes your microservices system visible. Service Mesh can work with existing monitoring technologies like Prometheus and Jaeger.

    These crucial capabilities provide control over the full network of distributed microservices that comprise a sophisticated cloud-native application.

These crucial capabilities provide control over the full network of distributed microservices that comprise a sophisticated cloud-native application.

How Does a Service Mesh Function?

A Service Mesh is a dedicated infrastructure layer for managing service-to-service communication in a microservices architecture. It improves the performance and reliability of microservices by providing advanced traffic management features such as load balancing, service discovery, traffic encryption, and observability.

A Service Mesh is built as a collection of proxies that run alongside application code. These proxies act as middlemen, intercepting and managing all incoming and outgoing traffic between services. Proxies are typically built with open-source projects like Envoy, Linkerd, or Istio.

How a Service Mesh and Kubernetes Interact?

If you merely deploy a base Kubernetes cluster without a Service Mesh, you will encounter the following problems −

  • There is no inter-service security.

  • Tracing a service latency issue is a difficult task.

  • Load balancing is restricted.

As you can see, a Service Mesh fills a void in Kubernetes. In other words, a service mesh is an add-on to Kubernetes.

Who is Building Service Mesh Solutions?

The top three Service Mesh providers are −

  • Istio

  • Consul

  • Linkerd

Let's go over each one in greater depth.


Istio is a Kubernetes-based platform. Lyft created Istio, which now has investment and support from Google, IBM, and Microsoft.

Istio uses a sidecar-loaded proxy to separate its data and control planes. The sidecar stores information in order to avoid having to return to the control aircraft for each call. The control planes are managed as pods by a Kubernetes cluster. This configuration provides more resilience in the event of a single pod failure in any region of the service mesh.


Consul Consul is a full-featured service management framework. Consul began as a mechanism to manage Nomad-based services and has now expanded to include a variety of different data centers and container management technologies, including Kubernetes.


Linkerd is another popular Service Mesh that runs on top of Kubernetes, and its architecture is quite similar to Istio's thanks to a rewrite in v2. The distinction is that Linkerd prioritizes simplicity.

How Does a Service Mesh Compare to Kubernetes?

While Kubernetes is a fantastic solution for managing containerized applications, it does not offer the same level of networking and communication features as a service mesh. Although Kubernetes includes some networking features such as load balancing and service discovery, it does not provide the same amount of control and flexibility as a service mesh.

A service mesh, on the other hand, provides a specialized infrastructure layer for managing service-to-service communication, with advanced features like traffic management, load balancing, service discovery, and security. This enables developers to add complicated networking functionality without changing the underlying application code.

Another significant distinction between Kubernetes and a service mesh is that Kubernetes is focused on container orchestration, whereas a service mesh is focused on service-to-service communication. Kubernetes serves as a platform for deploying, scaling, and managing containerized apps, whereas a service mesh serves as a dedicated layer for managing communication between such applications.

Following Steps

A Service Mesh is not a solution that can be set up and run on its own. Your DevOps strategy must include a service mesh. You should put the following in place for the next steps −

  • You should have solutions running in the cloud.

  • Containers should be used in your solutions (such as Docker).

  • To manage your Containers on the Cloud, you should use Kubernetes.

With these three steps completed, you now have the foundation for running a Service Mesh. Istio is simpler to set up with AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and IBM. The reason for this is that each vendor is investing in Istio development. In addition, the DevOps community surrounding Istio is stronger than that of rival technologies. Having said that, the Service Mesh market is still in its infancy. Other devices with easier setup and more functionality have a lot of room to enter the market.


Finally, a service mesh is an effective tool for managing service-to-service communication within a distributed system. While Kubernetes is a powerful container orchestration platform, it lacks the networking and communication capabilities of a service mesh. A service mesh allows developers to easily incorporate complex networking features without having to modify the underlying application code by providing a dedicated infrastructure layer for coordinating service-to-service communication. A service mesh can be a great tool for managing your application's networking infrastructure, whether you're developing a microservices architecture or a big distributed system.

Updated on: 27-Apr-2023


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