Multi-cluster communication

Linkerd can connect Kubernetes services across cluster boundaries in a way that is secure, fully transparent to the application, and independent of network topology. This multi-cluster capability is designed to provide:

  1. A unified trust domain. The identity of source and destination workloads are validated at every step, both in and across cluster boundaries.
  2. Separate failure domains. Failure of a cluster allows the remaining clusters to function.
  3. Support for heterogeneous networks. Since clusters can span clouds, VPCs, on-premises data centers, and combinations thereof, Linkerd does not introduce any L3/L4 requirements other than gateway connectivity.
  4. A unified model alongside in-cluster communication. The same observability, reliability, and security features that Linkerd provides for in-cluster communication extend to cross-cluster communication.

Just as with in-cluster connections, Linkerd’s cross-cluster connections are transparent to the application code. Regardless of whether that communication happens within a cluster, across clusters within a datacenter or VPC, or across the public Internet, Linkerd will establish a connection between clusters that’s encrypted and authenticated on both sides with mTLS.

How it works

Linkerd’s multi-cluster support works by “mirroring” service information between clusters. Because remote services are represented as Kubernetes services, the full observability, security and routing features of Linkerd apply uniformly to both in-cluster and cluster-calls, and the application does not need to distinguish between those situations.

Overview
Overview

Linkerd’s multi-cluster functionality is implemented by two components: a service mirror and a gateway. The service mirror component watches a target cluster for updates to services and mirrors those service updates locally on a source cluster. This provides visibility into the service names of the target cluster so that applications can address them directly. The multi-cluster gateway component provides target clusters a way to receive requests from source clusters. (This allows Linkerd to support hierarchical networks.)

Once these components are installed, Kubernetes Service resources that match a label selector can be exported to other clusters.

Headless services

By default, Linkerd will mirror all exported services from a target cluster as clusterIP services in a source cluster (they will be assigned a virtual IP). This also extends to headless services; an exported headless service will be mirrored as a clusterIP service in the source cluster. In general, headless services are used when a workloads needs a stable network identifier or to facilitate service discovery without being tied to Kubernetes’ native implementation, this allows clients to either implement their own load balancing or to address a pod directly through its DNS name. In certain situations, it is desireable to preserve some of this functionality, especially when working with Kubernetes objects that require it, such as StatefulSet.

Linkerd’s multi-cluster extension can be configured with support for headless services when linking two clusters together. When the feature is turned on, the service mirror component will export headless services without assigning them an IP. This allows clients to talk to specific pods (or hosts) across clusters. To support direct communication, underneath the hood, the service mirror component will create an endpoint mirror for each host that backs a headless service. To exemplify, if in a target cluster there is a StatefulSet deployed with two replicas, and the StatefulSet is backed by a headless service, when the service will be exported, the source cluster will create a headless mirror along with two “endpoint mirrors” representing the hosts in the StatefulSet.

This approach allows Linkerd to preserve DNS record creation and support direct communication to pods across clusters. Clients may also implement their own load balancing based on the DNS records created by the headless service. Hostnames are also preserved across clusters, meaning that the only difference in the DNS name (or FQDN) is the headless service’s mirror name. In order to be exported as a headless service, the hosts backing the service need to be named (e.g a StatefulSet is supported since all pods have a hostname, but a Deployment would not be supported, since they do not allow for arbitrary hostnames in the pod spec).

Ready to get started? See the getting started with multi-cluster guide for a walkthrough.

Further reading