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HashiCorp Consul Service on Azure: The First Fully Managed Consul Offering

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During the HashiConf keynote, HashiCorp announced HashiCorp Consul Service (HCS) on Azure. Azure customers can now provision HCS natively through the Azure Marketplace directly into their Azure environments, while HashiCorp takes care of maintenance and operations of the service.

Using HCS allows users to set up a service mesh using a mix of various environments, including Virtual Machines and Kubernetes, across the cloud, hybrid and on-premises scenarios, similarly to other service mesh providers such as Istio and Linkerd.

A service mesh helps to control how different parts of a distributed microservices landscape communicate with each other. The HCS service does this by implementing ways for services to automatically discover each other and connect, all while instances of these applications are continuously being instantiated and destroyed. As such, it provides capabilities to configure multi-environment scenarios by using advanced traffic routing and service segmentation features beyond the boundaries of a single cluster.

Source: https://cloudblogs.microsoft.com/opensource/2018/10/04/use-case-modern-service-discovery-consul-azure-part-1/

Moreover, with newly announced integration with Azure, it is now possible to do this while leveraging Azure Active Directory as the identity provider, and incorporating with their existing billing infrastructure. As such, HCS abstracts away the need to keep track of all the possible interactions, while providing several vital capabilities, as explained in the documentation.

  • Service Discovery: Clients of Consul can register a service, such as api or mysql, and other clients can use Consul to discover providers of a given service.
  • Health Checking: Consul clients can provide any number of health checks, either associated with a given service ("is the webserver returning 200 OK"), or with the local node ("is memory utilization below 90%")
  • KV Store: Applications can make use of Consul's hierarchical key/value store for any number of purposes, including dynamic configuration, feature flagging, coordination, leader election, and more.
  • Secure Service Communication: Consul can generate and distribute TLS certificates for services to establish mutual TLS connections.
  • Multi Datacenter: Consul supports multiple datacenters out of the box.

Earlier in the year, HashiCorp announced their support of Service Mesh Interface (SMI), a collaboration between various cloud and service providers. This specification aims to provide guidelines around the implementation of configuration and deployment of service mesh technology, independent from the provider. SMI provides a common interface around various capabilities such as communication policies, telemetry, and management of traffic.

Built on top of Microsoft's Managed Applications Platform, HashiCorp can manage HCS while deployed and running inside a customer's subscription. Users subscribe to a service, while the service provider conducts maintenance and operations, and therefore the users do not need to build and maintain a skillset around the operating the applications.

Additionally, the service creates a native integration with the Azure portal and services, for example, by incorporating their portal into that of Azure. Currently, while HCS is in private preview it only integrates with Azure AD and billing, however, as time progresses towards general availability more features will become available, such as support for backups, monitoring, federation, access control, and TLS encryption.

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