Introduction to Control Plane and Data Plane

In the world of computing and cloud services, the terms "control plane" and “data plane” are increasingly mentioned, even though these are actually older terms that originally came about in the networking world. This blog post aims to dive into the history of these concepts, where they are used and why, and how they’ve been extended into the emerging domain of SaaS. Let's dive in.

Brief History

In cloud networking (and networking in general), the term "control plane" refers to the layer of a network that carries signaling traffic and is responsible for routing network traffic. It's a fundamental concept in understanding how data moves around a network and how the network operates. The data plane, in contrast, is the domain of operation where data is actually sent and received. For a bit more detail in this historical, networking-only context:

- Control Plane:

  • It is responsible for the management and control of network operations. This means making decisions about how data should flow, what routes it should take, and configuring and managing the actual hardware or software that will execute these decisions.

  • Components of the control plane often include routing protocols, management protocols, and other mechanisms that help in making decisions about the data flow.

Data Plane (Forwarding Plane): - This is concerned with the actual process of sending and receiving data packets. It's the mechanism by which data travels from one point to another, with no concern about how these paths are determined.

The Symphony Analogy

Imagine a distributed system as a grand symphony orchestra. Orchestra

Control Plane - The Conductor/ Music Orchestrator:

Role: The conductor doesn’t play any instrument but knows the entire score. They ensure all sections of the orchestra come together harmoniously, guiding tempo, dynamics, and coordinating entrances. In a distributed system, the control plane orchestrates its overall functioning without directly handling the user data.

Tasks: The conductor decides when the string section begins, how loud the brass plays, and signals the percussionists. Similarly, the control plane in distributed systems decides where a service runs, how many replicas are needed, monitors health, and reacts to failures.

  • Interactions: Musicians look to the conductor for guidance. Similarly, in a distributed system, various components refer to the control plane for their instructions.

Data Plane - The Musicians:

Role: Each musician in the orchestra plays their respective part without concerning themselves with the broader coordination. Their primary task is to produce music (data processing) according to the conductor's (control plane) instructions. In the same vein, components in the data plane process data following the control plane's instructions

Tasks: A violinist focuses on their notes, a percussionist on their rhythm. Similarly, in a distributed system, the data plane components process requests, handle data, and execute tasks as directed without worrying about global decisions.

  • Interactions: The audience hears the music directly from the musicians. Similarly, end-users interact with the data plane to get their requests processed.

In the Context of Cloud based Distributed Systems

In the context of cloud-based distributed systems, the control plane and data plane often have distinct roles to ensure seamless operation, scalability, and management of the cloud resources.

Control Plane (Management Layer):

Role: The control plane manages and orchestrates the underlying resources in a cloud environment. It's the brain of the cloud platform, ensuring everything is configured, provisioned, and operating correctly.


  • Resource Provisioning: When you want to create a new virtual machine, database, or storage bucket, the control plane handles these requests.

  • Configuration & Metadata Management: It maintains information about resources, their configuration, and state.

  • Monitoring & Health Checks: It monitors the health of resources and might restart or reallocate resources if they fail.

  • Scaling & Load Balancing: Based on monitoring data, the control plane can also make decisions about scaling resources in or out.

  • Metering : Through Control Plane SaaS providers can offer real-time monitoring to ensure they can track and alert on unusual or excessive usage, helping prevent unforeseen charges or system abuses.

  • Billing : System generates invoices, processes payments, and handles related functions like discounts, taxes, and refunds.

  • Interactions: Cloud users mainly interact with the control plane through cloud service dashboards, CLI tools, or APIs when they want to create, configure, or manage resources.

  • Example: In AWS, services like Amazon EC2 or Amazon RDS have control planes that handle requests to launch new instances or databases and manage their lifecycle.

Data Plane (Workload Layer):

Role: Once resources are provisioned and configured by the control plane, the data plane is where the actual processing happens, handling user data and applications.


  • Data Processing: This is where your cloud applications run, process data, and serve user requests. Data Storage & Retrieval: Actions related to writing data to databases, reading from storage, or any direct data handling happen here.

  • Direct User Requests: When a user accesses a cloud application, they are interacting with the data plane. Interactions: End-users typically interact with the data plane without even realizing it. For instance, when accessing a web application hosted on a cloud platform, they're interfacing with the data plane components.

Example: In AWS, when you access a web application running on an EC2 instance or retrieve data from an S3 bucket, you're interacting with the data plane.

Summary In cloud-based software systems, the control plane manages and orchestrates cloud resources, ensuring everything is correctly provisioned, configured, and monitored. It's the layer users interact with when setting up or managing cloud services, often through dashboards, CLI tools, or APIs. On the other hand, the data plane is where actual data processing occurs, running applications, storing and retrieving data, and directly serving user requests.