OpenStack as Layers

Last week at LinuxCon I gave a presentation on DevStack which gave me the proper excuse to turn an idea that Dean Troyer floated a year ago about OpenStack Layers into pictures (I highly recommend reading that for background, I won’t justify every part of that here again). This abstraction has been something that’s actually served us well as we think about projects coming into DevStack.


Some assumptions are made here in terms of what essential services are here as we build up the model.

Layer 1: Base Compute Infrastructure

We assume that compute infrastructure is the common starting point of minimum functional OpenStack that people are deploying. The output of the last OpenStack User Survey shows that the top 3 deployed services, regardless of type of cloud (Dev/Test, POC, or Production) are Nova / Glance / Keystone. So I don’t think this is a huge stretch. There are definitely users that take other slices (like Swift only) but compute seems to be what the majority of people coming to OpenStack seem to be focussed on.

Basic Compute services need 3 services to get running. Nova, Glance, and Keystone. That will give you a stateless compute cloud which is a starting point for many people getting into the space for the first time.

Layer 2: Extended Infrastructure

Once you have a basic bit of compute infrastructure in place, there are some quite common features that you do really need to do more interesting work. These are basically enhancements on the Storage, Networking, or Compute aspects of OpenStack. Looking at the User Survey these are all deployed by people, in various ways, at a pretty high rate.

This is the first place we see new projects integrating into OpenStack. Ironic extends the compute infrastructure to baremetal, and Designate adds a missing piece of the networking side with DNS management as part of your compute creation.

Hopefully nothing all that controversial here.

Layer 3: Optional Enhancements

Now we get a set of currently integrated services that integrate North bound and South bound. Horizon integrates on the North bound APIs for all the services, it requires service further down in layers (it also today integrates with pieces further up that are integrated). Ceilometer consumes South bound parts of OpenStack (notifications) and polls North bound interfaces.

From the user survey Horizon is deployed a ton. Ceilometer, not nearly as much. Part of this is due to how long things have been integrated, but even if you do analysis like take the Cinder / Neutron numbers, delete all the Folsom deploys from it (which is the first time those projects were integrated) you still see a picture where Ceilometer is behind on adoption. Recent mailing list discussions have hints at why, including some of the scaling issues, and a number of alternative communities in this space.

Let’s punt on Barbican, because honestly, it’s new since we came up with this map, and maybe it’s really a layer 2 service.

Layer 4: Consumption Services

I actually don’t like this name, but I failed to come up with something better. Layer 4 in Dean’s post was “Turtles all the way down”, which isn’t great describing things either.

This is a set of things which consume other OpenStack services to create new services. Trove is the canonical example, create a database as a service by orchestrating Nova compute instances with mysql installed in them.

The rest of the layer 4 services all fit the same pattern, even Heat. Heat really is about taking the rest of the components in OpenStack and building a super API for their creation. It also includes auto scaling functionality based on this. In the case of all integrated services they need a guest agent to do a piece of their function, which means when testing them in OpenStack we don’t get very far with the Cirros minimal guest that we use for Layer 3 and down.

But again, as we look at the user survey we can see deployment of all of these Layer 4 services is lighter again. And this is what you’d expect as you go up these layers. These are all useful services to a set of users, but they aren’t all useful to all users.

I’d argue that the confusion around Marconi’s place in the OpenStack ecosystem comes with the fact that by analogy it looks and feels like a Layer 4 service like Trove (where a starting point would be allocating computes), but is implemented like a Layer 2 one (straight up raw service expected to be deployed on bare metal out of band). And yet it’s not consumable as the Queue service for the other Layer 1 & 2 services.

Leaky Taxonomy

This is not the end all be all of a way to look at OpenStack. However, this layered view of the world confuses people a lot less than the normal view we show them — the giant spider diagram (aka the mandatory architecture slide for all OpenStack presentations):


This picture is in every deep dive on OpenStack, and scares the crap out of people who think they might want to deploy it. There is no starting point, there is no end point. How do you bite that off in a manageable chunk as the spider grows?

I had one person come up to me after my DevStack talk giving a big thank you. He’d seen a presentation on Cloudstack and OpenStack previously and OpenStack’s complexity from the outside so confused him that he’d run away from our community. Explaining this with the layer framing, and showing how you could experiment with this quickly with DevStack cleared away a ton of confusion and fear. And he’s going to go dive in now.

Tents and Ecosystems

Today the OpenStack Technical Committee is in charge of deciding the size of the “tent” that is OpenStack. The approach to date has been a big tent philosophy, where anything that’s related, and has a REST API, is free to apply to the TC for incubation.

But a big Tent is often detrimental to the ecosystem. A new project’s first goal often seems to become incubated, to get the gold star of TC legitimacy that they believe is required to build a successful project. But as we’ve seen recently a TC star doesn’t guarantee success, and honestly, the constraints on being inside the tent are actually pretty high.

And then there is a language question, because OpenStack’s stance on everything being in Python is pretty clear. An ecosystem that only exists to spawn incubated projects, and incubated projects only being allowed to be in Python, basically means an ecosystem devoid of interesting software in other languages. That’s a situation that I don’t think any of us want.

So what if OpenStack were a smaller tent, and not all the layers that are in OpenStack today were part of the integrated release in the future? Projects could be considered a success based on their users and usage out of the ecosystem, and not whether they have a TC gold star. Stackforge wouldn’t have some stigma of “not cool enough”, it would be the normal place to exist as part of the OpenStack ecosystem.

Mesos is an interesting cloud community that functions like that today. Mesos has a small core framework, and a big ecosystem. The smaller core actually helps grow the ecosystem by not making the ecosystem 2nd class citizens.

I think that everyone that works on OpenStack itself, and all the ecosystem projects, want this whole thing to be successful. We want a future with interoperable, stable, open source cloud fabric as a given. There are lots of thoughts on how we get there, and as no one has ever created a universal open source cloud fabric that lets users have the freedom to move between providers, public and private, so it’s no surprise that as a community we haven’t figured everything out yet.

But here’s another idea into the pool, under the assumption that we are all smarter together with all the ideas on the table, than any of us are on our own.

10 thoughts on “OpenStack as Layers”

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