CNCF Announces Linkerd Graduation – Container Journal

canstockphoto12773763 ProxyEgg CNCF Announces Linkerd Graduation - Container Journal

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) has announced the graduation of Linkerd, the popular open source service mesh lauded for its fast performance and ultralight footprint. Linkerd now joins the ranks of other well-established graduated CNCF projects, such as Kubernetes, Prometheus, Envoy and Helm.

Linkerd, a project that makes it easy to apply observability, security and reliability features consistently across containerized services, was the first project to join the CNCF sandbox. The more recent announcement marks the first service mesh to achieve graduation status with CNCF. Linkerd was also the first CNCF project to adopt the Rust language. That’s three firsts!

The graduation of Linkerd by CNCF signals its maturity as a stable service mesh; yet, graduation arrives at a moment of fierce competition among service meshes on the market. I recently met with Linkerd maintainer William Morgan, CEO, Buoyant, to get his take on what the announcement signals for the Linkerd project and how he foresees Linkerd progressing. According to Morgan, graduation signals a moment of reflection, but by no means is a pause on the ongoing project roadmap.

What Does CNCF Graduation Mean?

To refresh, the CNCF hosts a number of open source, cloud-native projects, categorizing them as sandbox, incubating or graduated stages that correspond to varying levels of adoption and maturity. With the graduation of Linkerd, you could say that it has crossed the ‘chasm of skepticism’; it’s no longer stuck in the realm of early adopters and bleeding-edge tech innovators. Instead, we expect to see growing late-stage interest by more conservative organizations.

For a tool to advance up the CNCF ladder, the Technical Oversight Committee (ToC) must be convinced that the project is sustainable, has a self-perpetuating community and is true to the principles of the foundation, Morgan explains. This due diligence also assures that governance is set up in a vendor-neutral manner. Thankfully, Linkerd has been closely aligned with these principles from its inception, so inclusion within the CNCF has been a natural process, says Morgan.

Morgan also predicts that validation as a graduated project will help spur additional Linkerd adoption among enterprises. When introducing any new technology into an organization, architects must justify their technology allegiances. Now, graduation status is another argument engineers can make when pitching Linkerd adoption to their organization. Confirming an open-source project is stable and well-supported is especially vital for large enterprises with standardized tech evaluation processes.

Linkerd and The Service Mesh Landscape

The adoption of Linkerd is increasing. The project has over seven thousand GitHub stars at this time and within the past year, Linkerd has seen a 300% increase in downloads. Production Linkerd use is now underway at Microsoft, Nordstrom, Expedia, JPMC, Clover Health, Entain, H-E-B and many other large organizations.

“Service mesh has been, arguably, one of the fastest-growing areas of cloud-native technology, and Linkerd has been leading that charge since it helped kickstart the service mesh movement,” adds Chris Aniszczyk, CTO of the CNCF.

That said, Linkerd’s CNCF graduation comes at a time where the service mesh landscape is still fractured. Istio, Consul Connect, Kuma and other service mesh options also are all vying for market share. This fractured state makes the idea of “one service mesh to rule them all” a far-off prospect.

“While I’d love to say Linkerd will dominate the field, it’s hard to make that statement with a straight face,” says Morgan. “Every software market will have multiple options.”

However, in Linkerd’s favor, recent performance benchmarks place Linkerd dramatically ahead of  Istio when it comes to speed and it consumes less CPU. Morgan credits the bulk of these performance benefits to thelinkerd2-proxy, which is not a general proxy like Envoy, but a proxy purpose-built for the specific service mesh’s requirements. Thus, it’s able to process the bare minimum that a service mesh requires. “We’re seeing that having built that custom proxy is paying off in a real tangible way,” he says.

Speed and bare minimum resource consumption are nice side effects of the overall Linkerd mission—operational simplicity. “The data plane proxy should be an implementation detail,” describes Morgan. “You shouldn’t have to become an operational expert in service mesh and an operational expert in a proxy.”

What’s on the Horizon for Linkerd?

As overall container use grows, service mesh use also is rapidly accelerating. A 2020 CNCF survey found that 27% of respondents use a service mesh in production, a 50% increase over last year. Other studies now find that a majority of microservices ecosystems now adopt service mesh.

In line with these forecasts, Linkerd has some significant improvements on its upcoming feature roadmap. For example, Linkerd 2.11 will be introducing new server and client-side authorization policies. This will provide a layer to connect services using Linkerd. Furthermore, maintainers are developing mesh expansion capabilities, which would allow engineers to take linkerd2-proxy and operate it outside of Kubernetes. This would help companies support older, legacy stacks as they make the transition to cloud-native.

A Victory for Simplicity

The service mesh landscape is competitive, with big marketing budgets overshadowing the need for simple alternatives, says Morgan. He views the Linkerd graduation status as a sign of maturity but also as a moment of triumph. “This is a victory for everyone who has championed the virtues of simplicity and minimalism and rejected the narrative that service meshes must be complex and slow,” writes Morgan in a blog post.

Many companies are making their own service mesh, but they are quite difficult to perfect in a simplistic fashion with easy usability. Now, with greater market validation, “we’re holding ourselves to that higher standard,” remarks Morgan. “Where Linkerd sits is an incredibly sensitive part.” The onus is thus not only on service mesh maintainers but on operators to carefully maintain control of sensitive data.

With a commitment to simplicity and proven performance results, it appears the grassroots Linkerd project is doing something right. To get involved, check out for more information. You can also view the guide to getting started, visit the GitHub repository or join the Linkerd Slack channel. Morgan describes the Linkerd community as a “really collaborative place.”

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