June 8, 2021

Service Mesh vs. API Gateway: What’s the Difference?

API Gateways

Service mesh vs. API gateway — which is better?

Many enterprise leaders, technologists, and entrepreneurs recognize the value of service mesh. Likewise, they understand the role an API gateway can play in streamlining APIs and apps.

Yet, many are confused about how a service mesh approach can work alongside an API gateway. Or, whether to utilize one instead of the other.

You may be wondering:

  • If I adopt a service mesh approach to applications, do I still need an API gateway?
  • Do service mesh and API gateways perform the same tasks?
  • If I am running multiple APIs, is that the same as service mesh?
  • I already have an API gateway, so why bother with service mesh?

Let’s unpack some key differences to answer these questions.

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Service Mesh vs. API Gateway: What’s the Difference?

An API gateway is a centralized control plane vs. a service mesh is amethod of breaking application functionality into microservices, which is managed by an infrastructure layer. When used together, an API gateway can act as a mediator in a service mesh architecture. This adds security and speed to delivery.

What Is the Purpose of an API Gateway? 

The API gateway responds to external API calls, aggregates appropriate services, and delivers them. The API gateway is a core tool for managing critical API functions such as rate limiting, user authentication, analytics, and API traffic control.

Key Differences Between Service Mesh and API Gateway

The table below provides a quick overview of differences between service mesh and API gateway.

Key DifferencesService MeshAPI Gateway
PurposeDesigned to improve portability within internal enterprise systems and microservices.Designed to route internal, external, and even database API calls.
How It WorksOperates within the confines of an internal enterprise technology footprint.May route calls from applications that live outside your enterprise.
Role of APIsAPIs are used to secure the service mesh at scale.API gateways are used to manage and secure APIs.
Role in Digital TransformationAccelerates delivery by managing microservices, but can present security challenges.Accelerates time-to-market and ensures security, especially when used with a service mesh.
ComplexityAdds to complexity as endpoints scale with the business.Makes it easy to manage endpoints and scale APIs to manage the service mesh.
MaturityEmerging technologyMature technology
SecurityManual processesAutomated security policies and features

Securing the Edge API and Microservices Mesh

There are many benefits to the service mesh. But how can you ensure it’s secure? Find out in this white paper.


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Why You Should Use a Service Mesh AND an API Gateway

1. Drive Digital Transformation

APIs are an essential component to digital transformation. Which is why APIs have gained rapid adoption in recent years. Yet, when you scale APIs on top of applications, services, and databases, greater digital complexity can be the result.

As the number of APIs expand, you need full lifecycle API management to improve security. Plus, it makes it easier to:

The API gateway is a critical component. In this approach, all APIs are routed through the gateway. This allows you to manage your APIs, and the applications they are built upon — from a single layer.

Service mesh is also key to digital transformation. You could technically run a service mesh architecture without any APIs. Yet, this is often chaotic and poses security problems.


When you scale microservices, the number of application endpoints explode. In theory, every single one of these endpoints need to be managed, improved, and secured. Without APIs, this requires thousands of hours of developer time.

The ideal approach for securing and grappling with endpoint complexity is API management. When APIs are scaled upon microservices, the entire service mesh architecture can be routed through and managed by an API gateway. In short – with a centralized API gateway, managing service mesh becomes greatly simplified.  

2. Scale Security

To scale security in digital transformation, you need an API gateway AND a service mesh.

With service mesh, the point is to improve how microservices support one another, and create connectivity across the entire digital ecosystem. With API gateways, the point is to create a single control plane through which all API functions – and associated applications – can be managed.

When organizations scale service mesh and microservices, the API gateway acts as the perfect technical support structure. When it comes to security it acts as shield and gatekeeper.


The gateway creates a security layer at a proxy level. Which means security threats can be detected and resolved at this proxy level. This increases your ability to detect security threats before they reach your applications and databases.

Here’s an example:

  • Using an API proxy, an organization with a customer base in the Western United States can limit customer IP ranges.
  • When an IP address from outside this geolocation attempts to call an API, the API gateway can alert the appropriate IT resource.
  • Staff can automate the blocking of external IP addresses and remain aware of attempted security breaches based on geolocation data.

Your gateway serves additional security and technical functions. These include:

  • User management and role assignments.
  • Applying security policies and procedures, such as rate limiting, OAuth, or JWT.
  • API monitoring and analytics.

3. Enable Innovation

Using an API gateway with service mesh enables innovation.

A key benefit to implementing an API-centric infrastructure is the ability to expose applications and services to internal, or external developer communities. For many organizations, this allows for API monetization via an API marketplace.

Likewise, the API gateway allows you to consume external APIs and their functionality inside your organization. In a world where products, services, and applications are adopted readily across developer communities, this is a key component to business innovation and competitiveness. This allows businesses to improve digital revenue and digital products, by incorporating external API functionality. Put simply, this is how modern businesses stay competitive in a digital-first economy.

On the other hand, service mesh is focused on the optimization of technical resources within an enterprise. When microservices and service mesh are present, discrete application functionality can be repurposed across a variety of internal applications. This means you can rapidly achieve continuous delivery, continuous integration, and other important DevOps processes. This is a key component in evolving a monolithic application footprint to a modern digital enterprise.

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How to Use the Akana API Gateway With Service Mesh

Akana offers the easiest way to accelerate digital transformation in the enterprise. Akana’s API gateway works seamlessly in service mesh environments to enable this transformation. That’s because Akana:

  • Accelerates time-to-market with fast API deployment.
  • Automates security, including integration with service mesh.
  • Partners with you on your digital transformation strategy.

You can watch our on-demand demo anytime to see Akana in action.

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