Archive for March 2019

Coming Attractions: Service Mesh Research

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In early January, I started researching the service mesh market. To oversimplify, a service mesh is a way of providing for the kind of network services necessary for enterprise applications deployed using a microservices architecture. Since most microservices architectures are being deployed within containers and, most often, managed and orchestrated using Kubernetes, service mesh technology will have a major impact on the adoption of these markets.

As I began writing the original paper, I quickly realized that an explanation of service mesh technology was necessary to understand the dynamic of the service mesh market. Creating a primer on service mesh and a market guide turned out to be too much for one paper. It was unbearably long. Subsequently, the paper was split into two papers, a Technical Guide and a Market Guide. The Technical Guide is a quick primer on service mesh technology and how it is used to enhance microservices architectures, especially within the context of containers and Kubernetes. The Market Guide outlines the structure of the market for service mesh products and open source projects, discusses many of the major players, and talks to the current Istio versus Linkerd controversy. The latter is actually a non-issue that has taken on more importance than it should given the nascence of the market.

The Technical Guide will be released next week on the Amalgam Insights site, just prior to Cloud Foundry Summit. Even though service mesh companies seem to be focused on Kubernetes, anytime there is a microservices architecture, there will be a service mesh. This is true for microservices implemented using Cloud Foundry containers.

The Market Guide will be published roughly a month later, before Red Hat Summit and KubeCon+CloudNative Summit Europe. Most of the vendors discussed in the Market Guide will be in attendance at one or the other conference. Read the report before going so that you know who to talk to if you are attending these conferences.

A service mesh is a necessary part of emerging microservices architectures. These papers will hopefully get you started on your journey to deploying one. If you are a vendor and are interested in leveraging this research, please contact Lisa Lincoln (lisa@amalgaminghts.com).

Network Big Iron f5 Acquires Software Network Vendor NGINX

I woke up last Tuesday (March 12, 2019) to find an interesting announcement in my inbox. NGINX, the software networking company, well known for its NGINX web server/load balancer, was being acquired by f5. f5 is best known for its network appliances which implement network security, load balancing, etc. in data centers.

The deal was described as creating a way to “bridge NetOps to DevOps.” That’s a good way to characterize the value of this acquisition. Networking have begun to evolve, or perhaps devolve, from the data center into the container cluster. Network services that used to be the domain of centralized network devices, especially appliances, may be found in small footprint software that runs in containers, often in a Kubernetes pod. It’s not that centralized network resources don’t have a place – you wouldn’t be able to manage the infrastructure that container clusters run on without them. Instead, both network appliances and containerized network resources, such as a service mesh, will be present in microservices architectures. By combining both types of network capabilities, f5 will be able to sell a spectrum of network appliances and software tailored toward different types of architectures. This includes the emerging microservices architectures that are quickly becoming mainstream. With NGINX, f5 will be well positioned to meet the network needs of today and of the future.

The one odd thing about this acquisition is that f5 already has an inhouse project, Aspen Mesh, to commercialize very similar software. Aspen Mesh sells an Istio/Envoy distribution that extends the base features of the open source software. There is considerable overlap between Aspen Mesh and NGINX, at least in terms of capabilities. Both provide software to enable a service mesh and provide services to virtual networks. This raises the question “Why buy NGINX if f5 already has Aspen Mesh?” Sure, NGINX has market share (and brain share) but $670M is a lot of money when you already have something in hand.

NGINX and f5 say that they see the products as complimentary and will allow f5 to build a continuum of offerings for different needs and scale. In this regard, I would agree with them. Aspen Mesh and NGINX are addressing the same problems but in different ways. By combining NGINX with the Aspen Mesh, f5 can cover more of the market.

Given the vendor support of Istio/Envoy in the market, it’s hard to imagine f5 just dropping Aspen Mesh. At present, f5 plans to operate NGINX separately but that doesn’t mean they won’t combine NGINX with Aspen Mesh in the future. Some form of coexistence is necessary for f5 to leverage all the investments in both brands.

The open source governance question may be a problem. There is nervousness within the NGINX community about it’s future. NGINX is based on its own open source project, one not controlled by any other vendors. The worry is that the NGINX community run into the same issues that the Java and MySQL communities did after they were acquired by Oracle which included changes to licensing and issues over what constituted the open source software versus the enterprise, hence proprietary software. f5 will have to reassure the NGINX community or risk a fork of the project or, worse, the community jumping ship to other projects. For Oracle, that led to MariaDB and a new rival to MySQL.

NGINX will give f5 both opportunity and technology to address emerging architectures that their current product lines will not. Aspen Mesh will still need time to grow before it can grab the brain share and revenue that NGINX already has. For a mainstream networking company like f5, this acquisition gets them into the game more quickly, generates revenue immediately, and does so in a manner that is closer to their norm. This makes a lot of sense.

Now that the first acquisition has happened, the big question will be “who is the next sellers and the next buyers?” I would predict that we will see more deals like this one. We will have to wait and see.