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The Pivotal Role of Service Mesh and API Gateway in Application Modernization


API Service Mesh

If you’re into Microservices, then you must have heard about these two terms – API Gateway and Service Mesh, several times. People get confused between the two. One of the most common questions that people ask is, “How is Service Mesh different from an API Gateway?” Supposedly, there is an overlap between API Gateway and Service Mesh patterns. Both are able to handle request routing, authentication, rate limiting, monitoring and service discovery but they are utilized for different purposes. A Service Mesh is mainly used for managing internal service-to-service communication while an API Gateway primarily, manages traffic from edge level client-to-service.

Let’s delve deeper into the topic and talk about API Gateways and Service Meshes in detail and discuss when to use what. The primary purpose behind using an API gateway is to handle traffic from outside your system and convey it inside to service. The principle feature of a service mesh is to manage traffic inside your system.

The Rise of Service Mesh Architecture

A Service Mesh is considered to be a technology that manages service-to-service communication within a distributed software system. It manages the east-west type of network communications. East-west traffic is the indication of a traffic flow inside a data center, Kubernetes cluster, or a distributed system. A Service Mesh consists of two important components: Control plane and Data plane. It allows you to separate the application’s business logic from the network, reliability, security, and observability.

Building Microservices using API Gateway

An API Gateway, an API management tool, acts as a single point of entry into a cluster, a data center, or a group of distributed services. It’s often referred to as north-south traffic. An API Gateway is a reverse proxy which is required to accept all application programming interface (API) calls. It aggregates the various services needed to fulfill them, and return the appropriate result. API Gateways take calls from the clients and routes those to appropriate services. While doing so, they can also translate protocols.

Service Mesh and API Gateway – Leveraging Microservices Architecture

The primary purpose of a Service Mesh is said to manage internal service-to-service communication, while an API Gateway is primarily meant for external client-to-service communication. The overlap between API Gateway and Service Mesh patterns is significant and useful. Similarity lies in carrying out tasks like handling service discovery, requesting routing, authentication, rate limiting, and monitoring, but there are differences in architectures and intentions.

  • The main task an API Gateway does is to accept traffic from outside your network and then distribute it internally.
  • A Service Mesh is useful in order to route and manage traffic within your network.
  • A service mesh is able to work with an API Gateway. It efficiently accepts external traffic and then effectively, routes that traffic once it’s in your network.
  • The perfect combination of these two technologies has turned out to be a powerful way to ensure application uptime and resiliency thereby, ensuring that your applications are easily consumable.

In a certain deployment with an API Gateway and a Service Mesh, the incoming traffic from outside the cluster would first be routed through the API gateway and then into the mesh. The API Gateway will be able to handle authentication, edge routing and other edge functions, whereas, the Service Mesh helps to provide fine-grained observability and control of your architecture.

Benefits of API Gateway & Service Mesh

With the passage of time, the fact has been established that API Gateways have an overlap with Service Mesh in terms of functionality and they may also, have an overlap in terms of technology used, but their roles are quite different. It might appear to you that API Gateway and Service Mesh solve the same problem and are therefore, redundant. Though they do address and solve the same problems, in completely different contexts. However, this understanding is critical and can help you save a lot of time and effort as you deploy your Microservices architectures.

Service Mesh, combined with API management, has the ability to increase Microservices agility by allowing you to centrally manage, scale, secure, and discover any service in any architecture.

  • Both API gateway and service mesh have their own dynamic routing tables for routing requests to the correct end-point or Microservice.
  • Another functionality provided by the API gateway as well as by a service mesh provider is traffic management.
  • The service mesh handles the service to service communication with its own internal security mechanisms once the API gateway authenticates the north south traffic. The task of a service mesh is to provide different mechanisms to secure the service to service communication or the east-west traffic of the deployment.
  • A service mesh provides an ecosystem to manage the Microservices and controls those Microservices that are behind the API. As in the case of an API, it’s a digital asset that’s discoverable by external/internal parties at the edge of your deployment.
  • Both API gateways and service mesh implementations focus on monitoring tools, but they are specifically intended for two different purposes. Service mesh provides metrics related to Microservices and on the other hand, an API gateway monitors the traffic at the ingress level and provides valuable insights regarding the usage of APIs.

Future of Integration with Service Mesh and API Gateway

Developers have already started, to combine service mesh into their API management initiatives. It is quite evident now that deploying an integrated API gateway and service mesh can provide a doorway to route traffic from end users to both new and existing services, regardless of where these applications are being deployed. It’s beneficial if one views the two as being complementary to one another in deployments that involve both Microservices and APIs.

Nairita Goswami
Asst. Manager-Marketing, RapidValue

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