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IT pros hail Google's Istio service mesh donation to CNCF

Google's decision to donate Istio service mesh to the CNCF isn't a shocking one, but proponents of the project said it could broaden its adoption in a competitive market.

After an ill-fated experiment with its own separate governance organization for Istio service mesh, Google has finally donated the project to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

The trademark for Istio will be transferred from Google's Open Usage Commons, established to widespread consternation in 2020, to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), a subgroup the Linux Foundation founded to govern Kubernetes in 2015.

The news, announced at this week's IstioCon virtual event, comes about five months after Google donated the Knative event-driven computing project. It was generally expected that Istio would follow once Knative was donated, and Google officials said the decision to finally donate Istio was partly prompted by a desire to have one foundation for all three of its container automation frameworks.

"The Istio trademark being transferred from its current place under the relative control of Google to the CNCF, where it will be managed like the Kubernetes trademark is managed, allows less risk for the broad community and a more truly open ecosystem," said Eric Brewer, Google vice president and fellow, in a keynote at IstioCon. "Then it will be part of the collection of things that make a complete Kubernetes stack."

Istio service mesh backers and attendees at IstioCon welcomed the move, saying it will broaden adoption for the project among users and vendor partners that have been leery of Google having sole control over its governance.

"I've been pushing this behind the scenes for years," said Nicolas Chaillan, an early adopter of Istio formerly at the Department of Defense and now an independent consultant and member of the advisory board for Istio commercial vendor Tetrate. "[Now Istio] will win the entire market by far. Folks follow whatever CNCF adopts."

Adoption was also top of mind following Brewer's keynote for IstioCon speaker Lin Sun, director of open source at Solo.io, another Istio commercial vendor.

[Now Istio] will win the entire market by far. Folks follow whatever CNCF adopts.
Nicolas Chaillan Independent consultant, Tetrate advisory board

"No need to shop around for different service mesh projects -- you just pick what's most deployed in production environments, which also has a great home at CNCF," Sun said during the virtual event livestream.

Istio service mesh has always benefited from its high-profile backers, including Google, IBM and ride-sharing company Lyft, which together launched the project in 2017. But so far it has not dominated competitors the way Kubernetes has -- CNCF service mesh project Linkerd, in particular, has been nipping at its heels with its ease of use and flexible deployment, surpassing Istio's growth in North America in 2021, according to the CNCF annual survey.

By removing the association between Google Cloud and Istio, vendor partners and enterprise users might be prompted to take another look at Istio, according to one analyst.

"Istio will now progress faster, and more importantly, enterprises have a path to hybrid cloud without lock-in if they choose a hyperscaler [such as AWS or Azure]," said Larry Carvalho, independent analyst at RobustCloud.

CNCF still must formally accept the Istio project but will almost certainly do so, as it did with Knative.

 Istio CNCF announcement
Google vice president and fellow Eric Brewer announced Istio's donation to the CNCF at IstioCon this week.

Linkerd community leaders suggested this could pave the way for collaboration between CNCF service mesh projects.

"We've always welcomed Google's participation in Linkerd," said William Morgan, founder and CEO of Buoyant.io, the commercial backers of Linkerd. "And I'm hopeful that this change of heart signals a deeper shift that will allow them to finally join us -- in the name of contributing, sustaining and improving the ecosystem, if nothing else."

Istio is already widely deployed, particularly among large enterprises that need fine-grained security features, where Istio has led the market from its inception. However, the complexity of the project has opened opportunities for competitors, which include Kong Mesh and HashiCorp Consul in addition to Linkerd.

The upstream community is still working to "make Istio boring," said Solo.io's Sun, with updates such as pod networking refinement and a separate, clearer interface for proxy configuration in recent releases. Commercial vendors such as Solo.io and Tetrate have also added ease-of-use features meant to broaden Istio's appeal.

"We know we are not as boring as Kubernetes," Sun said in her IstioCon presentation. "But that's our intention."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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