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  • 1 March 2019 16:15

Riding the ‘service mesh’ wave to success.

We are experiencing a microservices revolution. In the era of digital transformation, organisations are replacing traditional monolithic applications with more agile platforms, leading to a surge in the use of microservices within their infrastructure.

But as microservices adoption continues, they're becoming increasingly complex. This is where the service mesh comes in. It's a configurable layer of infrastructure for a microservices application that allows faster, more flexible communications between service instances. It also offers load balancing, encryption, authentication and authorisation to microservice environments, with its ability to simplify complex containers and improve networking rendering it a must-have for firms running hundreds of microservices.

But the technology is still in its early days, and expertise remains sparse within the channel. Considering how immature the market is today, the opportunity is ripe for integrators, distributors, and resellers to position themselves as experts - but they must first understand how the market might evolve, and how to keep up with this.

There are two major phases that should be on the channel's radar. The first, expected to occur over the next year, provides an opportunity to overcome a clear skills gap. The second phase, 12 to 18 months from now once service mesh technology has matured, presents the opportunity to navigate the plethora of options and offset the risk of a business choosing the wrong product.

Why businesses should hit the early wave Service mesh technologies are nascent, with the first iteration only released last summer. And many argue this still isn't ready for deployment without significant customisation, given they are incredibly complex and require high skill levels to implement. But this is good news for integrators and VARs as it gives them a chance to get one step ahead and provide the design, implementation, and support for leading-edge enterprises found in this first phase of adoption.

Channel firms must first develop their knowledge and understanding of a service mesh, and all the different components involved in deployment. If this isn't possible, then it's best to wait for the second phase when it's more established, and enterprise IT staff are available to pilot the technology themselves. But not successfully implementing service mesh in this crucial first phase may damage your reputation and lead to a loss of trust in your capabilities.

Resellers should expect to profit more from the first than the second phase, since the supply of knowledge around service mesh technologies is, for now, limited. Early adopters tend to be less price-sensitive and generally pay a premium for emerging tech that provides a competitive edge. But it's important to note the volume of deals may be thin, as many businesses will probably wait for the market to mature before taking the plunge themselves.

Navigating the murky waters After around a year many businesses will turn to trusted resources to select the best option for them. Dozens of vendors and cloud providers have already announced plans to develop service mesh systems, and we're starting to see upwards of four viable options coming up on the market. By the time the second phase hits, there will three or four times as many.

Integrators, distributors, and resellers will continue to play a key role in helping to navigate this sea of options. These businesses will turn to integrators and resellers they know and trust, so channel operators must ensure they're offering a legitimate product they have experience with, and that works. Distributors, meanwhile, must be prepared to supply these integrators and resellers with easy-to-use, easy-to-install options that mask the sheer complexity of the underlying technology.

This is more of a challenge that the channel will anticipate. In the rush to be seen as 'strategic' in the second phase of adoption, many vendors will release lower-quality products that aren't fit-for-use by mainstream enterprises, with others rebranding existing products as service meshes, despite not being designed as such. The channel's role in this scenario should be to police the market as advisors who provide guidance on which products to adopt, and which are too risky.

Despite the technology becoming increasingly mature, in this phase, with more adopters, channel providers will likely see a decrease in the value of each deal, but the larger volume of deals means it can still be a profitable service.

DevOps might be key to choosing your path The first phase of service mesh adoption presents the biggest opportunity for profitability but comes with the higher risk of engaging with a premature technology. If you don't think that risk is worth the reward, then wait for the second phase.

If you're wondering which of the two phases to go for, then ask yourself: how good are my DevOps skills? Service meshes are part of microservices, while microservices are associated with containers and DevOps practices like agile development, continuous integration / continuous delivery (CI/CD). You need to assess your comfort with these technologies to see if you're ready to help your customers design, implement, and operate a service mesh. If you've worked with Docker, Kubernetes, and Istio, then you may be.

By Owen Garrett, senior director for product management at NGINX

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