KubeCon Europe 2021: Key Themes Centered on Observability and Service Mesh

C. Dunlap

Summary Bullets:            

  • Prominent KubeCon themes included observability and service mesh.
  • New Relic and F5/NGINX made key announcements.

The open source software (OSS) community huddled up last week during KubeCon Europe, clearly affected by the past year’s strain on companies and DevOps teams, resolving to refine digitization via emerging technologies. Twice a year, KubeCon provides the industry with a developer-focused gauge of key trends and innovations related to app modernization, DevOps, and Kubernetes/container innovations.

The industry is placing greater emphasis on elevating cloud innovations from the application layer down. These efforts run the gamut from improving development processes through AI and automation, to observability and modern monitoring, to solutions to better orchestrate and manage multi-cloud environments.  Two key trends in particular coming out of KubeCon were the growing importance of observability and service mesh to help facilitate successful app modernization under a DevOps model.


Following a devastating year prompting enterprises to accelerate time to value from cloud investments, observability solutions are emerging for providing DevOps members with greater insight into app performance, efficiencies, governance/security, etc.

Technologies such as application performance management (APM) have taken a backseat in the cloud’s evolution in recent years to more important breakthroughs such as Kubernetes containerization, cluster management, and low-code app development platforms. But as operations teams continue towards a path of DevOps initiatives, assembling the components necessary for an application lifecycle management (ALM) approach based on cloud-native and hybrid cloud IT models, the concepts of monitoring, tracing, and visibility have become more relevant parts of the cloud’s value chain.

Vendors are under pressure to respond to accelerated digitization through agile app development/deployment solutions, consolidated platforms, and lately technology that performs observability for the inevitable problems associated with aggressive cloud deployment scenarios. Based largely on progress made in OSS communities such as CNCF, a number of observability-related technologies have sprung up in the past 18 months.  The most popular among them represent the fastest path to filling out vendor roadmaps and customer expectations for improved monitoring and visibility of application modernization progress.  Leading OSS technologies include Prometheus (monitoring), OpenTracing and Jaeger (tracing), Grafana (visibility), Kafka (distributed streaming), and Kiali (service mesh).

This week during KubeCon, APM provider New Relic announced plans to donate the open source technology of recently acquired modern observability provider Pixie to CNCF as a new project. The technology provides observability for cloud-native workloads running on Kubernetes clusters.

Also in attendance at KubeCon were observability startups looking to disrupt the traditional monitoring market segment through modern cloud-native based technology. Chronosphere is an example of a monitoring company focused on improving scalability and reliability through its solution, which has microservices-based app modernization in mind.

Service Mesh

Service mesh capabilities based on prominent OSS technologies such as Istio and LinkerD have gained momentum for their ability to provide real-time visibility into, and control over, application and network performance.  The importance of service mesh technology came to light in recent years following the realization of network connectivity complexities around development of microservices-based apps in a Kubernetes environment.

Pure plays rose to the forefront with lightweight connectivity solutions addressing those points of intersection between apps and networks.  The rise in companies such as NGINX, HashiCorp, Heptio, and Buoyant was driven by difficulties in infrastructure implementations of modern architectures stalling DevOps initiatives.  (Note: GlobalData has included these vendors in a set of Market Disruptor reports called ‘Microservices Network and App Management’).

Not surprisingly, a number of these companies are being acquired by larger infrastructure providers looking to expand ALM capabilities by acquiring specialists in analytics, security, networking, cloud brokerage, and microservices network and app management.  Earlier this year, Istio represented GitHub’s fastest-growing OSS project (according to GitHub), helping to further illustrate the importance of service mesh innovations.

This week during KubeCon, NGINX (owned by F5) announced the GA of NGINX Service Mesh, building on its experience offering OSS Istio-compatible solutions.  

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