HashiCorp Consul 1.8 will help services get chatty with those beyond the mesh

Infrastructure management company HashiCorp has released a beta of upcoming Consul 1.8, extending on the service mesh aspect of the networking product and giving enterprise users a little bit of extra security.

According to HashiCorp’s VP of product marketing, Amith Nair, Consul’s primary use cases are discovering the services in a network, finding out how to connect them, and monitoring their health. For this release, service mesh capabilities have been extended to account for the reality that production setups seldomly are cloud infrastructure only but also contain middleware and application performance management elements amongst other things.

As a consequence, the company recently has gotten more requests to allow services “to connect to each other outside of certain clusters” once a service mesh has been activated. “So with version 1.8, [..] we’ll have Envoy as part of the core solution” explained Nair, which lets customers “route traffic, any external service, through the service mesh.” 

New elements that will help with that include an Ingress Gateway, for allowing communication of services outside a mesh with those on the inside; a terminating gateway, for data exchanges between apps in the mesh and everything that doesn’t allow a sidecar proxy to be deployed; and WAN federation. The latter is meant to send cross-environment traffic (WAN gossip and RPC traffic) through the mesh, keeping Consul server exposition to a minimum, and simplifying multi-cluster/data center environments.

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Users can still go with other gateways, but it gives those getting started with service meshes something to work with, which seems to be quite a big part of the IT industry. “When we would talk to [customers] about service meshes, they didn’t even really understand what they could do on it,” Nair muses. 

From his experience, companies that tried to really understand their setup with service discovery before “going into full fledged service mesh mode” have been amongst the more successful when following that trend – just to give you something to think about. To support them further, HashiCorp aims for additional ease of use going forward. 

Other than that, the 1.8 beta also allows the exchange of signed JSON Web Tokens from “a trusted external identity provider for a Consul ACL token” and includes an improved UI.

Although competition is starting in comparatively new areas like infrastructure as code, in which HashiCorp’s Terraform has made quite a name for itself, investor interest in the company is still unabated. Only in March HashiCorp announced a successful Series E funding round, putting the company valuation to $5.1bn.

It also finds its way into whole new sectors, such as connected cars, Nair told DevClass. “Mercedes Benz [uses] Consul as the service mesh solution. So essentially, every single connected car is a service that’s moving all the time [it] is very dynamic. It’s sending information all the time about the car, the user that’s driving the car, and so on. So you need a really dynamic system that processes this information really fast, and can send that back to their core data center.”

Moving forward, users don’t have to fear seeing their favourite tools merged into some sort of swiss army solution, as seems to be the trend these days, any time soon, Nair promised. “We’re focused on modular solutions, because at the core of who we are we still serve the practitioner. And [..] most practitioners, they don’t need a full fledged system that covers everything.” 

While this might be true for some, sometimes it’s also nice to get everything from just one source, which is where the company’s enterprise line comes in. Integration between the single tools has progressed in the last couple of years, turning Terraform, Vault, Consul, and Nomad into a stack of sorts in which every element gets to play off the other’s features.

However, for the 1.8 release, the Consul team mainly focused on improving compliance and security issues enterprise users may encounter. The new version therefore comes with an option to log authenticated events and attempts thereof, complete with timestamps, the performed operation, and their initiator. Another addition to Consul Enterprise is a single sign-on feature, so that admins can integrate the tool with a company’s authentication system.

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