OpenStack is a cloud operating system that controls large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a datacentre

What is OpenStack?

OpenStack is a cloud platform that allows users to control large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a data centre, all managed and provisioned through APIs with common authentication mechanisms.

The OpenStack platform is broken up into many individual services to allow for additional features to be added on an as-needed basis.

Initially developed by NASA and Rackspace, and used by companies such Walmart and Blizzard Entertainment, OpenStack has proven itself against other cloud platforms like Azure & AWS.


A Quick History

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Started officially in 2012, OpenStack is a project within the broader ecosystem known as OpenInfra. OpenInfra encompasses a variety of open-source infrastructure projects aimed at providing solutions for building and managing scalable and interoperable cloud and edge computing environments.

While OpenStack remains a flagship project within OpenInfra, the initiative also includes other projects based on the same "Four Opens" - pillars of true open source - Open Source, Open Design, Open Development, and Open Community.

OpenInfra serves as an umbrella organization that promotes collaboration and innovation across diverse open source projects, fostering interoperability and integration between different technology stacks. The aim is to bring together a community of developers, users, and organizations, At it's heart, OpenInfra aims to drive industry standards through the adoption of open-source infrastructure solutions.

The relationship between OpenStack and OpenInfra is symbiotic, with OpenStack playing a central role in providing cloud infrastructure capabilities while other projects within OpenInfra complement and extend its functionality.

The OpenStack is the name of the project that oversees the development and promotion of the OpenStack open-source cloud computing platform. Founded in 2012, it serves as a collaborative community of developers, technologists, and organizations committed to advancing cloud infrastructure technology.

At its core, OpenStack provides a set of software tools for building and managing cloud environments, offering flexibility, scalability, and interoperability across private and public clouds. It is designed to create and manage large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources through a unified dashboard or via the OpenStack APIs.

Key Features of OpenStack


Nova (Compute)

Nova is the compute service within OpenStack, responsible for managing and provisioning virtual machines (VMs) and other instances on the hypervisor layer. It provides users with on-demand access to compute resources, allowing them to launch and manage virtualized workloads across distributed infrastructure.

An important thing to note is that OpenStack Nova is not the hypervisor, nor does it exactly include a hypervisor layer in it's suite - it can be considered generally agnostic to the underlying hypervisor layer. Nova's purpose is to integrate the hypervisor layer into the distributed infrastructure.

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Neutron (Networking)

Neutron is the networking service in OpenStack, enabling users to create and manage network resources such as virtual networks, routers, and subnets. It provides network connectivity between instances and external networks, supporting advanced networking features like load balancing, VPN, and firewall services.

Like Nova, Neutron isn't a Software Defined Network (SDN) platform itself; it's the management layer that can take on Open Switch or another SDN service and stitch it into the distributed infrastructure.

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Cinder (Block Storage)

Cinder is the block storage service in OpenStack, offering persistent storage for VMs and other resources. It allows users to create and attach block storage volumes to instances, providing scalable and high-performance storage solutions for cloud applications.

Once again, like the components before it, Cinder provides a "Storage API" and acts as the management layer that OpenStack uses to ingest Block storage into the distributed cloud infrastructure. The underlying storage can be Software Defined Storage (SDS) or a storage appliance such as Nutanix.

Cinder can ingest local storage natively, but this is less common in scalable production cloud platforms.

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Swift (Object Storage)

Swift is the object storage service within OpenStack, designed for storing and retrieving large amounts of unstructured data. It provides a highly scalable and durable storage platform, ideal for storing multimedia files, backups, and archives in a distributed environment.

Unlike the components before it, Swift is not just the management layer that OpenStack uses to ingest Object storage into the distributed cloud infrastructure - it is also the underlying Software Defined Storage (SDS) layer, and consists of it's own storage appliance, using nodes and file systems typically on bare metal operating systems. Like Cinder, it acts as the storage API for Openstack for Object Storage, and can ingest SDS options or storage appliances on the back end - as long as the back end is object storage or uses an object storage gateway.

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Keystone (Identity)

Keystone is the identity service in OpenStack, responsible for authentication, authorization, and service catalog management. It provides a central directory of users, projects, and roles, ensuring secure access control and identity management across the OpenStack environment.

It should go without saying that the Identity provider or Identity Access Management platform underneath keystone can be just about anything - from LDAP to Keycloak. Whilst Keystone can support basic authentication without any back-end, it excels in presenting authentication across the whole OpenStack project.

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