OpenStack Summit Atlanta 2014 Review (part 2)

03 Jun 2014

update 2014-06-04: added links to the talks

Welcome back! This is the continuation of my review of the Atlanta 2014 OpenStack Summit. If you missed it, part 1 is available here.

Consistency across Openstack ReST APIs

Design session

This was a nice design session about how the OpenStack developer community can work towards creating ReSTful APIs that are more consistent across projects.

One of the main themes discussed is the need to create some sort of style guide that could be used as a model for projects. There was also considerable talk of the need for consistency without creating a policing organization, more of a “soft” enforcement.

Another big topic was the need for nomenclature to become more consistent. A few examples were “tenant” vs. “project”, and “instance” vs. “server”.

I came away with a new way of thinking about how to examine the ReST APIs that are employed across OpenStack. One of the main things I did after the session was spend some time studying the Nova API, as it was brought up that Nova laid much of the groundwork for future APIs.

Etherpad from the session

How to Improve Security in your OpenStack project

Design session with the OpenStack Security Group

Another interesting design session, that raised my awareness of the OpenStack Security Group. The group are very interested in helping all OpenStack projects improve their security models. To that end they expressed their eagerness to be referenced by any project that could use guidance. It sounded like they were more than happy and willing to enagage with any team that reached out.

A big takeaway from this talk was the idea of marking reviews in Geritt with the “security” tag. This will throw a warning up to the OSSG that you would like them to help assess the security implications of a patch. They also made note of design work that the OSSG could help with, and that involving them during the blueprint phase is the most useful.

Etherpad from the session

Open vSwitch and the Intelligent Edge

Justin Pettit

This was another mind-blowing talk for me, about using Neutron and the “intelligent edge” to open new possibilities for network monitoring. In this context Justin was referring to the hypervisor host as the edge for the virtual network.

The people at VMware are creating some interesting patches to the infrastructure of Neutron network agents to create new styles of packet tagging. These tagging mechanisms give a great amount of control and introspection over traffic that enters and exits virtual machine instances in an OpenStack deployment.

One of the use cases discussed was the detection and routing of “elephant” and “mouse” traffic inside a virtually defined software network. Their results showed significant performance increases for the mice with minimal loss for the elephants by becoming more aware of the traffic types and then changing the network flow at the host L3 layer. They presented some truly dazzling combinations of virtual interfaces inside a host that created virtual routes between the physical network and the virtualized instances.

This case was just the tip of the iceberg as Justin went on to show a whole host of tools that could be used to gain per-user and per-process information from inside a virtual instance. This information could then be used by external network controllers to help shape traffic or improve security.

The main approach to achieving these capabilities involved installing daemon processes, and Neutron L3 agent patches, in the virtual instances which could tag packets and send additional information to the host machine. The host machine in turn could create a virtualized network between it’s physical interface and the virtual interfaces with the effect of creating a new virtual network device primed for interrogation.

Some of these concepts may not be new in the software defined networking community, but the way Justin and the crew at VMware are putting them to use definitely opened my eyes.

Justin’s blog post about Elephant Flow Mitigation

Watch the talk here

Linux Containers - NextGen Virtualization for Cloud

Boden Russell

As Docker continues to burn up the charts, containerization becomes an ever hotter topic and this talk was packed to the rafters. In general the pieces that make up containers are not new to the *nix world. In this talk Boden did a great job of breaking down the individual pieces that are used in the process.

In short, the main pieces to consider for containers are; cgroups, chroots, namespaces, and the Linux security modules. Where these technologies really take off is when they are combined with good tooling to make the creation and management of containers simple and efficient. This is where projects like Docker are making huge waves.

One of the main benefits to containers is that they require no hypervisor overhead in comparison with traditional virtualization. Boden had some great slides that showed the performance benefits of using contianers over virtual instances. The biggest benefit seemed to be in the area of spinup times for new containers over instances. In addition, containers can achieve near bare metal performance for their applications.

Another big benefit comes with the way containers are packaged. Because they are, more or less, filesystems that live within the host operating system there is no need to create virtual disk images. This relieves much of the pressure behind creating bootable images for a virtual machine, and removes many moving pieces when the time comes to debug. In turn, this gives the packager a greater focus on only the pieces that matter to the container in question without the need for mounting an entire disk image.

It’s not all roses though, there are some issues that the container world are working to make better. Networking is one where things can get slightly “weird” depending on the experience of the ops team. Also security appears to be an evolving area of interest due to the tight coupling between the container application and host kernel. Because all containers live on the same kernel, all the heavy lifting is contained within that kernel and this is where work can be done to help improve the current state of affairs.

Fortunately Boden made his presentation available on, I highly recommend it for anyone looking to gain a foothold into the technologies that make containers possible.

Boden’s presentation

Watch the talk here

Using ZeroVM and Swift to Build a Compute Enabled Storage Platform

Blake Yeager and Camuel Giyadov

I wasn’t initially planning to see this talk but a colleague was interested and I joined him, and I’m glad I did!

ZeroVM is an interesting bit of technology that seems to be touting itself as an alternative to the virtualization vs. containerization discussions that are happening. ZeroVM creates an isolated computing environment for arbitrary code execution.

At it’s heart ZeroVM incorporates the Google Native Client with a subset of the POSIX API, a port of CPython, ZeroMQ for messaging, and a full compiler toolchain. This allows users to create applications that have a virtual environment that is very similar to a full instance. The benefits of this style of platform are that the boot performance and overhead are akin to that of containers and the security is closer to that of virtual machines.

Aside from a general introduction, the talk centered on how to use Swift and ZeroVM to create data manipulations that occur as requests for data are made. One example was image watermarking during HTTP GET requests. The ZeroVM middleware could be placed between Swift and the web-facing front end such that when users made calls the data could be pushed into the ZeroVM environments, processed, and returned as the result of the user’s request. Because of ZeroVM’s very low start time this operation could be done at the time of request and could scale quite well.

Another use of Swift with ZeroVM is storing pre-validated applications as Swift objects. This approach starts to create a new environment where the ZeroVM applications become part of the data and can be called by a proxy server as necessary when desired by the user. In this respect the speakers hinted at the idea of merging compute and storage operations into a single hierarchy.

The ZeroVM project is still growing and there are several areas where it can be improved. In the form demonstrated, the scheduler for complex jobs was very simplistic mainly relying on randomization to select job priorities, without much logic for duplicate jobs. In addition the Python packages available inside ZeroVM are limited as there is much work to be done porting to the limited environment.

All in all, ZeroVM is an exciting platform and there are several projects which are paving a bright future for it. My takeaway is that the ZeroVM folks would like to transform how we think about storing and retrieving data to include processing during those operations.

ZeroVM project

Watch the talk here

Introduction to OpenStack Trove: A Multi-database Deployment with MongoDB and MySQL

Michael Basnight and Doug Shelley

I went into this talk not knowing much more than Trove is a project that does something with MySQL. I came out understanding that Trove could be a invaluable asset to anyone who needs to manage a database infrastructure.

Quite simply, Trove is a system for managing and controlling databases. It uses OpenStack as a blackbox deployment platform allowing administrators to manage, scale, ensure high-availability, incorporate multi-tenancy, and efficiently distribute resources for their databases. Like other OpenStack projects it provides a command line interface and a ReST API for manipulating it’s operations.

Having done some database operations work I can only imagine how useful it would have been to have Trove in the toolbox. It allows an administrator to do all the ugly tasks that need to be done(backups, migrations, load distribution, etc.) in one convenient package. I like the approach that the developers have taken with Trove, namely to enhance the user experience of working with the day-to-day administrative tasks of database management.

Currently Trove has support for many database formats(MySQL, MongoDB, Percona, Couchbase, Cassandra, Redis, and probably a few more I missed), as well as a strucutre for creating new datastore models. It is similar to other OpenStack projects in that it requires an agent running on it’s nodes to communicate and control operations. Virtual machine images can be pregenerated or provisioned at runtime, and commanded through the root controller node. In the end, the developers proposed the question “can Trove be a building block for every OpenStack service?”

Watch the talk here

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned in part 1 I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the Summit. I look forward to attending again in the futre and hopefully I’ll have a better mind towards organizing the talks I attend and get more involved in the design sessions.

I didn’t mention it specifically, but the “hands on” sessions were very well done and I enjoyed being able to flex my fingers with some of the masters present. I was able to get some good ear-bending in with people who are administrating OpenStack instances and understand the problems that users are facing.

Finally, as noted before, if I’ve missed or misrepresented anything please get in touch with me and let me know. I hope this has been informative and gives a taste of what an OpenStack Summit is all about. Time to get out there and code!