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Kubernetes / Networking / Service Mesh

5 Key Takeaways from IstioCon 2021

Conference co-chair Lin Sun, open source manager at, discusses some of what we learned at IstioCon 2021.
Mar 4th, 2021 11:43am by
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Lin Sun
Lin is the Director of Open-Source at She has worked on Istio service mesh since 2017 and serves on the Istio Technical Oversight Committee. Previously, she served on the Istio Steering Committee for three years and was a Senior Technical Staff Member and Master Inventor at IBM for 15+ years. She is the author of the book Istio Explained and has more than 200 patents to her name.

This year’s first-ever Istio Community Conference was a huge success. The event, held on Feb. 22-26, connected around 3000 attendees from across the globe just as seamlessly as the Istio service mesh connects microservices.

As the conference program co-chair, I had the incredible honor to work with the rest of the program committee to select conference submissions from a diverse range of world-class speakers. I wanted to share my five key takeaways from the show:

  1. 2020: A Year of Istio Innovation

I have heard repeatedly from users that Istio is much easier to use thanks to the consolidation of all control plane components into Istiod. The removal of Mixer and the introduction of Web Assembly extensibility capabilities has also been widely lauded by the community. A complete list of highlights Istio enhancements and highlights can be found here:

Users also gave us positive feedback on Helm 3 support and simplified multicluster deployment models.

  1. Istio Is Being Widely Used in Production

At IstioCon this week, many well-recognized brands were on stage discussing their adoption of Istio, including; T-Mobile, Airbnb, eBay and Salesforce. Attendees were excited to hear from these speakers and were particularly impressed by T-Mobile, which has managed to implement over 100 instances of Istio service mesh.

Attendees were also excited to find that Airbnb uses the external control plane deployment model and loves it. I spent many hours contributing to this feature in Istio upstream, and am thrilled that my go-to travel site is using it in production!

  1. The Istio Roadmap Is Going to Be Boring

This is a positive move, especially for larger customers. Having put the necessary architecture changes in place, Istio can now slow down and focus the day-2 operations of Istio — including accurately cataloging features with their corresponding status. We want Istio to be part of users’ microservice infrastructure like Kubernetes with zero configuration changes for core functions. And advanced users should be able to leverage Web Assembly (WASM) to extend the sidecar proxy based on their business needs.

  1. Istio and Kubernetes Are Moving Closer Together

Istio has been adopting Kubernetes service APIs. We intend to replace Istio’s existing networking API with these Kubernetes APIs. This move will help users transition smoothly from Kubernetes to any service mesh which implements the Kubernetes service API.

The community has unified both replicated and shared control plane models into one single multi-cluster deployment model. While this is great, it lacks proper APIs for users to conveniently expose services to other clusters or to consume services from other services. Istio intends to implement the Kubernetes multicluster service API to close this gap.

  1. Abstraction Can Make Istio Better

We have noticed that users often provide their own abstractions on top of Istio resources to help simplify Istio adoption. Under this model, only the service mesh platform team needs to have Istio expertise, and service owners can simply leverage the configuration provided by the abstraction layer. For example, Salesforce uses Helm to provide this abstraction layer and eBay uses their own homegrown custom resource to achieve a similar layer of abstraction. This also allows the service mesh implementation to be easily switched. At, we also believe abstraction helps our users adopt Istio service mesh without having to learn all the ins and outs of Istio APIs.


I am super excited about the outcome of this conference. I look forward to connecting with more of you in the community to help us shape the future of Istio. I expect more users will adopt Istio in production in 2021 as  Istio solidifies its position as the industry’s most popular service mesh.

If you need help sailing with Istio (whether you’re looking for expanded supported versions of Istio beyond the default N-1,FIPS 140-2 compliant Istio or simplified multicluster and multimesh configuration management) please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or at is the modern API infrastructure company delivering application networking from the edge to the service mesh. is a strategic partner of IstioCon and had over five speaking sessions at the show. Interested in learning more about Istio and Service Mesh, tune into SoloCon 2021 for FREE, March 23-25.

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