How Istio Got its Name

Sailboat

Istio is a service mesh that allows organizations to connect, secure and observe microservices. Since its inception three years ago, it’s risen to become one of Google’s most prominent open source projects, a top-three keyword at KubeCon, and a mature, production-ready offering supported by a robust community.

At first sight, though, people naturally ask, “What’s an istio?” “What does ‘ISTIO’ stand for?” and “How do you pronounce it?”

Istio (ISS-tee-oh) was named by Tetrate Founder Varun Talwar and Google Principal Engineer Louis Ryan, in 2017, when they were both at Google.

Greek for “sail,” Istio (ιστίο) extends the greco-nautical theme that was established by Kubernetes (Greek for pilot, or helmsman). Istio (sail) and its meshy cousin Istos (ιστός)– meaning mast, net, or web– both come from the ancient greek root Istimi (ἵστημι), which means, “to make stand.”

“The naming process basically involved three hours of Greek dictionary search,” says Varun. “Both of us had a mental model of weaving things together. The idea of the sailboat is that it’s not just about who is in control. You can’t get anywhere without the boat.”

Varun recalls that 10 candidate names were whittled to three and that the practical need to name the Istio’s Github repository demanded a quick final decision.

Istio now resides at www.istio.io and the repetition of “io” was a point of consideration. On its own, “io” has a lot of meanings, including the abbreviation for ionium, the Jupiter moon named for an ancient lover of Zeus, and the internet Top Level Domain that takes its name from the Indian Ocean. While we’re g®eeking out, Iet’s also note that it’s an alternate spelling of Ino, who gave Odysseus a magic veil that allowed him to sail smoothly over a Category 5 ocean storm. Is Istio not that magic veil?

Final note: Istio is not an acronym, but if it stood for something, maybe it would be, “I Secure, Then I Observe,” or “I’m Sexy To Infrastructure Operators.” If you can come up with something better, post it to twitter.com/tetrateio.

Tetrate is an enterprise service mesh company that is a top contributor to Istio and includes a plurality of its founders. We help organizations to adopt Envoy and Istio, to manage unruly microservices, and to modernize responsibly.

You can download a free copy of Istio: Up and Running (O’Reilly) by Lee Calcote and Zack Butcher at www.tetrate.io.

Thanks to linguist Efthymia Lixourgioti for her consulting on Greek translation and etymology.

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