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Service mesh: What it is and why it matters so much now

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A service mesh is an emerging architecture for dynamically linking to one another the chunks of server-side applications — most notably, the microservices — that collectively form an application. These can be the components that were intentionally composed as part of the same application, as well as those from different sources altogether that may benefit from sharing workloads with one another.

Real-world service meshes you can use now

Perhaps the oldest effort in this field — one which, through its development, revealed the need for a service mesh in the first place — is an open source project called Linkerd (pronounced “linker — dee”), now maintained by the Cloud-Native Computing Foundation. Born as an offshoot of a Twitter project, Linkerd popularized the notion of devising a proxy for each service capable of communicating with similar proxies, over a purpose-built network. Its commercial steward, Buoyant, has recently merged a similar effort called Conduit into the project, to form Linkerd 2.0.

Meanwhile at car-sharing service Lyft, an engineer named Matt Klein devised a method for building a network that represented existing code — even when it was bound to a legacy “monolith” — as microservices with APIs. This became Envoy, which is now one of the components of a project that includes the work of IBM and Google, to produce a framework called Istio.

Also: Open source SDN project could let network admins duplicate production environments TechRepublic

A portion of “Dancer in a Cafe” [1912] by Jean Metzinger, part of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery collection, in the public domain.

Historical precedent

When it’s doing its job the way it was intended, a service mesh enables potentially thousands of microservices sharing a distributed data center platform to communicate with one another, and participate together as part of an application, even if they weren’t originally constructed as components of that application to begin with.

Its counterpart in the server/client and Web applications world is something you may be familiar with: Middleware. After the turn of the century, components of Web applications were being processed asynchronously (not in time with one another), so they often needed some method of inter-process communication, if only for coordination. The enterprise service bus (ESB) was one type of middleware that could conduct these conversations under the hood, making it possible for the first time for many classes of server-side applications to be integrated with one another.

A microservices application is structured very differently from a classic server/client model. Although its components utilize APIs at their endpoints, one of the hallmarks of its behavior is the ability for services to replicate themselves throughout the system as necessary — to scale out. Because the application structure is constantly changing, it becomes more difficult over time for an orchestrator like Kubernetes to pinpoint each service’s location on a map. It can orchestrate a complex containerized application, but as scale rises linearly, the effort required rises exponentially.

Suddenly, servers really need a service mesh to serve as their communications hub, especially when there are a multitude of simultaneous instances (replicas) of a service propagated throughout the system, when a component of code only needs to contact one.

Also: How the Linkerd service mesh can help businesses TechRepublic

From unknown entity to vital necessity

Most modern applications, with fewer and fewer exceptions, are hosted in a data center or on a cloud platform, and communicate with you via the Internet. For decades, some portion of the server-side logic — often large chunks — has been provided by reusable code, through components called libraries. The C programming language pioneered the linking of common libraries; more recently, operating systems such as Microsoft Windows provided dynamic link libraries (DLL) which are patched into applications at run time.

So obviously you’ve seen services at work, and they’re nothing new in themselves. Yet there is something relatively new called microservices, which as we’ve explained here in some depth, are code components designed not only to be patched into multiple applications on-demand, but also scale out. This is how an application supports multiple users simultaneously without replicating itself in its entirety — or, even less efficiently, replicating the virtual server in which it may be installed, which is how load balancing has worked up to now during the first era of virtualization.

A service mesh is an effort to keep microservices in touch with one another, as well as the broader application, as all this scaling up and down is going on. It is the most liberal, spare-no-effort, pull-out-all-the-stops approach to enabling a microservices architecture for a server-side application, with the aim of guaranteeing connectivity, availability, and low latency.

Also: Why it’s time to open source the service mesh TechRepublic

SDN for the very top layer

Think of a service mesh as software-defined networking (SDN) at the level of executable code. In an environment where all microservices are addressable by way of a network, a service mesh redefines the rules of the network. It takes the application’s control plane — its network of contact points, like its nerve center — and reroutes its connections through a kind of dynamic traffic management complex. This hub is made up of several components that monitor the nature of traffic in the network, and adapt the connections in the control plane to best suit it.

SDN separates the control plane from the data plane of a network, in order that it can literally rebuild the control plane as necessary. This brings components that need each other closer together, without impacting the data plane on which the payload is bound. In the case of network servers that address each other using Layers 3 and 4 of the OSI network model, SDN routes packets along simplified paths to increase efficiency and reduce latency.

Borrowing that same idea, a service mesh such as Istio produces a kind of network overlay for Layer 7 of OSI, decoupling the architecture of the service network from that of the infrastructure. This way, the underlying network can be changed with far fewer chances of impacting service operations and microservices connectivity.

Also: What is SDN? How software-defined networking changed everything

180828-vmworld-2018-day-2-02-bahubali-shetti.jpg

[Photo by Scott Fulton]

“As soon as you install it, the beauty of Istio and all its components,” remarked Bahubali Shetti, director of public cloud solutions for VMware during a recent public demonstration, “is that it automatically loads up components around monitoring and logging for you. So you don’t have to load up Prometheus or Jaeger [respectively]; it comes with them already. And it gives you a couple of additional visibility tools.

“This is a service-to-service intercommunications mechanism,” Shetti continued. “You can have services on GKE

, PKS [Pivotal Kubernetes Service] and VKE [VMware Kubernetes Engine], all interconnected and running. It helps manage all of that.”

Also: What is SDN? How software-defined networking changed everything

Complementing, not overlapping, Kubernetes

Now, if you’re thinking, “Isn’t network management at the application layer the job of the orchestrator (Kubernetes)?” then think of it like this: Kubernetes doesn’t really want to manage the network. It has a very plain, unfettered view of the application space as multiple clusters for hosting pods, and would prefer things stay that way, whether it’s running on-premises, in a hybrid cloud, or on a “cloud-native” service platform such as Azure AKS or Pivotal PKS. When a service mesh is employed, it takes care of all the complexity of connections on the back end, ensuring that the orchestrator can concentrate on the application rather than its infrastructure.

Also: What Kubernetes really is, and how orchestration redefines the data center

Key benefits

The very sudden rise of the service mesh, and particularly of the Istio framework, is important for the following reasons:

  • It helps standardize the profile of microservices-based applications. The behavior of a highly distributed application can be very dependent on the network that supports it. When such behaviors are drastically different, it can be a challenge for a configuration management system to maintain availability for an application on one network that has far fewer challenges on another network. A service mesh does all the folding, spindling, and mutilating — it makes a unique data center look plainer and more unencumbered to the orchestrator.
  • It opens up greater opportunities for monitoring, and then potentially improving, the behavior of distributed applications. A good service mesh is designed to place highly requested components in a location on the application control plane where they can be most easily accessible — not unlike a very versatile “speed dial.” So it’s already looking for components that fail health checks or that utilize resources less efficiently. This data can be charted and shared, revealing behavioral traits that developers can take note of when they’re improving their builds with each new iteration.
  • It creates the potential for a new type of dynamic, policy-based security mechanism. As we explored last December in ZDNet Scale, microservices pose a unique challenge in that each one may have a very brief lifespan, making the issue of an unimpeachable identity to it almost pointless. A service mesh has an awareness of microservice instances that transcends identity — its job is to know what’s running and where. It can enforce policies on microservices based on their type and their behavior, without resorting to the rigamarole of assigning them unique identities.

Previous and related coverage:

Microservices and containers in service meshes mean less chaos, more agility

For enterprises, it’s full speed ahead with microservices. This may speed up the development of chaos-proof service meshes.

To be a microservice: How smaller parts of bigger applications could remake IT

If your organization could deploy its applications in the cloud the way Netflix does, could it reap the same kinds of benefits that Netflix does? Perhaps, but its business model and maybe even its philosophy might have to be completely reformed — not unlike jumping the chasm from movies-by-mail to streaming content.

Micro-fortresses everywhere: The cloud security model and the software-defined perimeter

A months-old security firm has become the braintrust of engineers working to build the Software-Defined Perimeter — a mechanism for enforcing firewall and access rules on a per-user level. How would SDP remake the ancient plan of the software fortress?

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2021 Cadillac CT5 Review: Personality Matters

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For all the luxury sedan segment may be dwarfed by sales of lavish SUVs, that hasn’t made the category any less competitive. On the one side, the German mainstays bring reputation and refinement to the party; on the other, comparative upstarts like Genesis, Lexus, and Acura claw back attention with imaginative risk-taking. What to make, then, of the 2021 Cadillac CT5 somewhere in the middle?

I like Cadillac’s styling, with the CT5’s blend of angles and LEDs making for a handsome sedan from most angles. As with the most recent Escalade, the CT5 isn’t quite as vocal in its aesthetic as its predecessor: the grille feels like it could be a little larger; the side proportions a little beefier. 18-inch alloys are standard, with 19- and 20-inch versions available. I’d say step up at least one size, as the regular wheels look a little small to my eyes.

The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 is paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, and is good for 360 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. They’re certainly healthy numbers, and a fair sight more than the 237 hp / 258 lb-ft the standard 2.0-liter turbo-four delivers.

What you can only get on the CT5 V-Series, though, is Cadillac’s upgraded performance suspension and Magnetic Ride Control. The electronic limited-slip differential and Performance Traction Management system are exclusive to the V, too.

It leaves the regular CT5 with independent MacPherson strut front suspension and independent 5-link rear, and it’s all tuned on the soft side. Where the V-Series can flip from comfort to sport at the touch of a drive mode button, switching between Tour and Sport in the standard car is less dramatic. The 10-speed holds lower gears for longer, and the engine sounds louder, but it doesn’t have the sharpened dynamics which leave the CT5-V feeling poised and eager.

The multi-valve dampers on the CT5 simply aren’t so adaptable. It’s not that the sedan can’t hustle, it just doesn’t really encourage that. Long-distance cruising would be a joy in this Caddy, and pickup in a straight line is as urgent as the power figures would lead you to expect. Where some luxury sedans encourage leaving the family at home and playing on the backroads occasionally, though, the CT5 just doesn’t inspire the same.

Doubling down on that road trip ethos is the interior. The CT5’s cabin has plenty of space – for passengers, at least, though the 11.9 cu-ft trunk is a little small – and there’s no shortage of equipment. Premium Luxury trim comes with 14-way power front seats, leather, keyless start, a wireless phone charger, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and ambient lighting as standard. You get rear parking assistance and cross traffic alerts, forward collision alerts, blind zone warnings, and front pedestrian braking too. That’s all for $40,795.

As well as $3.5k for the V6 and $2k for all-wheel drive, my test car had the $1,350 navigation and Bose 15-speaker audio, the $1,090 Climate Package with heated and ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel, and the $600 Lighting Package with LED cornering headlamps and illuminated sill plates. $500 adds auto high-beams, lane-keep assistance, and following distance indicator, and $625 gets the Dark Moon Metallic paint. In all, with $995 destination, you’re looking at $51,455.

All the pieces are there, but I wish there was a little more oomph in how they were put together. The CT5’s cabin seems solid and the switchgear generally feels sturdy, but there’s little of the aesthetic consideration that rivals deliver. Shared parts with the rest of GM’s brands, combined with sober finishes that border on dour, feel neither special nor particularly luxurious.

It all works, it just doesn’t go beyond that to delight. Cadillac’s infotainment system feels like just what you’d find in a recent Chevy or GMC (because, funnily enough, it is) whereas the new Escalade serves up something a lot more unique. The chromed switchgear is too clearly plastic when you touch it, while the 10-inch touchscreen looks tagged on rather than integrated. A fully-digital driver’s display is optional, but the smaller standard panel – sandwiched between analog dials – could benefit from nicer graphics. Again, it does the job, it just doesn’t make itself memorable.

Super Cruise is finally available on the CT5, though the $2,500 option was absent from my test car. It’s the enhanced version, too, which can automatically change lanes for you. Honestly, if I was buying a CT5, it’s the option that would be top of my list.

As for economy, the V6 with AWD is EPA rated for 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, for 21 mpg combined. Conspicuous by its glaring absence is any sort of electrification; for a Caddy EV we’ll have to wait for the Lyriq crossover, which is still some way out.

2021 Cadillac CT5 Verdict

So many of my complaints about the CT5 could be boiled down to “just commit more, Cadillac.” There are hints at greatness throughout, but it seldom quite feels like the automaker goes the whole way and delivers on them. The styling is handsome but falls short of gravitas; the cabin is spacious and well-equipped, but feels bland; and the driving dynamics, especially with the twin-turbo V6, are promising yet not quite as engaging as the sum of the parts would lead you to expect.

That adds up to a problem, because rivals aren’t making the same mistakes. BMW’s 3 Series is more engaging, Genesis’ G70 takes more styling risks, and Mercedes’ C-Class has more comfort. Importantly, all three are just more memorable than the CT5.

Cadillac is quick to point out that its sedan is aggressively priced compared to its competitors, particularly the Germans, and that it outweighs them on things like power and standard equipment. Problem is, in focusing on comparisons, the CT5 has forgotten to factor in Cadillac’s own inherent charm: that singularly American presence and borderline-excess. The result is a car that’s good in many ways, but not great, and that’s just not enough in this segment to rise above the crowd.

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Lincoln Zephyr Reflection is the bold car design we’ve been waiting for

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Lincoln has revealed its latest concept car, and the Zephyr Reflection is a striking reminder that “American Luxury” can be darn handsome too. Unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2021, the shapely sedan is focused entirely on Chinese tastes, Lincoln says, and pushes beyond some of the more monolithic cues of the automaker’s current line-up.

The goal, Lincoln claims, was to draw in a younger audience. The grille gets a starburst pattern, and is considerably larger than usual, extending into the leading edge of the hood and down deep into the lower fascia.

It’s bisected with a line that links the narrow headlamps, and then trails back into the sharply creased shoulder-line. Flush door handles and high-end trim like tinted chrome, copper, and satin silver add some sparkle, while a trunk-spanning light bar joins the slimline clusters. A blacked-out A-pillar give the Zephyr Reflection a profile like no other Lincoln sedan in the range right now.

The automaker has been thinking about lighting a lot, it seems, with new welcome patterns and ambient lighting promised. The same goes inside, with glowing controls that only appear on touch-surfaces when they’re required. A huge, dashboard-spanning display dominates the dashboard, and can be split into three virtual sections.

As for the UX, that’s a new system being called Lincoln Constellation. Themed around the night sky, it’ll have three different versions – Normal, Sport, and Zen – each with unique animations and graphics.

What Zephyr Reflection doesn’t appear to be, however, is anything more than a styling exercise at this stage. Lincoln’s announcement is conspicuously absent of any sort of powertrain discussion, instead focusing entirely on the design of the sedan. That “hints at the future of Lincoln’s design philosophy and signature features ahead of the production model debut later this year,” the automaker says.

China is aggressively pushing EV adoption – and, indeed, Lincoln is using Auto Shanghai 2021 to debut the locally-produced version of its Corsair PHEV there – but though we’re expecting full-electric Lincoln news soon, it doesn’t seem like the Zephyr Reflection will be the model for that. Indeed, look closely at the dashboard display render, and there’s clearly a little gas pump icon there, suggesting this is a PHEV at best.

Of course, trying to read into production plans from a concept car is usually a shortcut to confusion, and so we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out Lincoln’s actual production plans. Certainly, sedans are still popular in the Chinese market, as is the concept of “American Luxury” itself, meaning whatever the Zephyr Reflection evolves into will likely be more of a hit there than it would be in Lincoln’s home market.

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Genesis Electrified G80 is more than just a luxury EV sedan

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Genesis promised us an all-electric model, and now we get to see just what that is, with the Electrified G80 giving the luxury automaker its first pure EV. Unveiled at Auto Shanghai 2021 today, it takes the well-received G80 sedan and gives it an all-wheel drive electric makeover.

Gone is the usual choice of 2.5-liter or 3.5-liter turbocharged gas engines, and indeed the rear-wheel drive option. However the Electrified G80 can switch between RWD and AWD depending on road conditions, with a Disconnector Actuator System (DAS) selectively decoupling the drive shaft.

The result is 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, Genesis says, in AWD mode. As for range, on the NEDC test you’re looking at over 310 miles, though we’d expect the US EPA numbers to be lower than that. Something that’s particularly impressive is 350 kW DC fast charging support which – if you find a suitably potent charger – could mean going from 10-percent to 80-percent in 22 minutes.

The underlying architecture supports 400/800V switchable modes, to suit different charger types. Just as exciting, though, is the inclusion of V2L (Vehicle to Load) support, effectively turning the Electrified G80 into a huge battery on wheels that’s capable of powering a home in the case of a grid outage or similar. In that situation, Genesis says, the EV can deliver 3.6 kW – more, it suggests, than the typical household requires.

On the outside, the changes from the internal combustion G80 are subtle. The Crest Grille switches from its usual mesh, with an inverted G-Matrix pattern instead. In the upper right corner is a door for the charging port; open that, and as well as a place to plug in, you’ll also find some Two Lines chrome detailing to harmonize with the exterior styling.

Inside, meanwhile, Genesis has blended traditional materials with some eco-minded treatments. There’s natural dyed leather on the seats, console, and rear seat armrest, for example, while the wood uses recycled timber. Recycled PET – the sort of plastic used in water bottles – features in other fabrics.

The GV80 SUV donates its Active Noise Control-Road system, which promises extra cabin hush by analyzing road noise and then creating opposite sound waves to cancel it out. There’s also Genesis’ Electronic Control Suspension with Road Preview system, which uses a front-facing camera to scan the asphalt ahead and preemptively adjust the suspension settings to iron out potholes and bumps.

Though Genesis is debuting the Electrified G80 in China – its first vehicle launch, it points out, outside of South Korea – it will be bringing the EV to the US and Canada, it’s confirmed. More information on localized specifications for that version will be shared later in the year, Genesis says, in addition to news on the other BEVs the automaker has planned.

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