Microsoft makes a service mesh move with new specification it hopes will unite emerging cloud-native technologies

Clouds over a changing Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

To date Microsoft has stayed out of the increasing skirmishes in the cloud-native world around service-mesh technology, but on Tuesday it plans to introduce a new specification in hopes that everyone can just get along.

Backed by service-mesh partners including HashiCorp,, and Buoyant, Microsoft will introduce the Service Mesh Interface with the goal of helping end users and software vendors work with the myriad choices presented by service mesh technology. SMI is a curated collection of APIs that supports Istio, linkerd, Consul, and even Amazon Web Services’ App Mesh, running on top of Kubernetes allowing users to experiment with different kinds of service-mesh technologies as this area evolves, said Gabe Monroy, partner program manager for Microsoft Azure.

“There’s a ton of interest and excitement around service-mesh technology in the cloud-native space, but the industry is suffering from a bit of fragmentation,” Monroy said in an interview with GeekWire. He confirmed that Microsoft is not working on its own service mesh at this time, but that it believes SMI will be the best way for Azure customers (and others) to insulate themselves from making the wrong bet on a service mesh.

For those on the cutting edge of cloud computing, services meshes are the new container orchestrators. Now that the industry has settled on Kubernetes as the container orchestration platform of choice, service-mesh technology has become an emerging area of “co-opetition” between giant cloud vendors and small startups alike.

Modern cloud-native developers tend to build their apps using microservices, multiple independent services that serve as application building blocks and which can be updated and swapped out without causing a lot of angst across the rest of an application’s code base. This approach improves application performance and reliability, but generates a ton of traffic as all those microservices exchange the data they need to work.

Microsoft SMI
An overview of Microsoft’s proposed Service-Mesh Interface (SMI). (Microsoft Photo)

Service-mesh technology is designed to make the network itself take on more of traffic routing responsibilities, handling those complex interactions so that developers don’t have to figure out how to manage that traffic themselves. Several different open-source approaches are making their way through developer circles this year, but the jury is very much still out on which approach will emerge as a leader.

SMI will support Istio, the Google-driven service-mesh option that has rubbed some folks in the open-source community the wrong way with its top-down marketing approach. It will also support linkerd, developed by former Twitter engineers now at Buoyant who solved the social network’s notorious “fail whale” problem, as well as Consul, an open-source service mesh developed by the two former University of Washington computer-science students behind white-hot unicorn HashiCorp.

Other partners collaborating with Microsoft on SMI include Red Hat, AspenMesh, Weaveworks, Docker, Rancher, Pivotal, Kinvolk, and VMware.

“Our job at Microsoft is to take this set of cloud-native technologies that’s being developed very rapidly and make it enterprise-friendly,” Monroy said. “The ecosystem is moving very quickly, and we need this interface layer to allow industry to innovate while also allowing enterprises a safe target to integrate with.”

Accordingly, it’s pretty early days for SMI, and Microsoft plans to share more details about the specification this week in Barcelona at Kubecon/CloudNativeCon EU. Those interested in hearing more about how service-mesh technology will impact cloud computing can come to our GeekWire Cloud Summit on June 5th in Bellevue, where co-founder and CEO Idit Levine will deliver a technical talk in our DevOps category.

Microsoft also plans to announce a few open-source milestones at Kubecon EU, including the alpha release of Helm 3 release and the Virtual Kubelet 1.0 release.

Helm is an open-source package management tool developed long before Microsoft subsidiary GitHub announced its own GitHub Packet Registry tool, and the Virtual Kubelet allows users to manage containers without having to deal with the operating system. Its 1.0 release means that Microsoft believes the technology is ready for production deployments, Monroy said.

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