Networking has long been something of an Achilles heel for OpenStack clouds, failing to match the powerful reliability and relative ease with which the massive open source project is able to provide cloud computing and cloud storage.
The job of an OpenStack cloud administrator operating a multi-vendor cloud network has traditionally been a fairly messy one, requiring the very technical, costly, and time-consuming work of getting products from different vendors to cooperate with one another. Often, utilizing one vendor’s software or services on a different vendor’s hardware means embarking on a major project to create a backend integration–and much of the time such an integration is not even possible. Solutions from different vendors just don’t want to get along on Layer 3 network services. If you think of vendor-provided network services as divas in an orchestra that chafe at having to play in concert together, the cloud operator in charge of them–equipped with a mess of SDN controllers, network plug-ins, and other systems–is the frazzled conductor whose job no one envies. The solution this conductor needs instead is a single, simple baton with the power to make all of those instruments play in harmony.
To address this need, OpenStack has now officially added the Astara project, designed to alleviate cloud operators’ frustration with vendor-agnostic network orchestration. The fully open source project simplifies multi-vendor network cloud management not only by making peace between Layer 3 applications, but also through tools for the monitoring, configuration, and management of all network services at Layers 3 through 7.
In this way, Astara delivers orchestration that can ease the implementation of these services, paving the way for solutions such as load balancing, firewall, and routing done as-a-service. OpenStack operators can make use of and combine different providers’ network functions, which can now be abstracted and spun up using virtual machines, containers, and bare metal–dealer’s choice. The project does a good job of anticipating the needs of developers, with a Layer 2 agnostic design ready to function in tandem with existing networks rather than taking their place. This, as well as the flexible lifecycle management, helps to offer a simplicity of execution and operability that make noticeable improvements in the day-to-day work of OpenStack cloud operators.
Astara benefits from the capabilities of OpenStack’s other projects also–for example, Astara is able to simplify monitoring and execute intelligent decision-making and necessary configuration updates by leveraging event streams provided by OpenStack’s Neutron project (interfacing with Neutron’s REST APIs). The project also takes advantage of OpenStack’s open nature. By ensuring that Astara adheres to the “four opens,” the project offers an open source solution free of dependency restrictions, empowered by the open community of impassioned and accomplished OpenStack contributors, and practices open development and open design. Astara maintains basic interoperability with the OpenStack project as well, so that users will have access to everything the project has to offer going forward.
The upshot is that Astara takes the tangled mess that is OpenStack cloud network administration today and flips this weakness into a strength. Operators can keep the networks they have, select whatever network services they want–free of vendor lock-in–and orchestrate those services without trouble. For these network operators, tinkering with unruly SDN controllers, overlays, plugins, and such can really become a thing of the past, replaced by the easy connectivity and security of Astara’s networking stack.
The production-ready project has now begun functioning at data centers in North America and is delivering cost savings for users (like web hosting and cloud computing provider DreamHost, which has seen Astara nearly halve operating costs and take 70% off capital costs compared with their previous solution). Look for Astara to offer fewer headaches for operators and greater capabilities and savings for companies going forward, as businesses free themselves from vendor lock-in and rely upon Astara to improve their network stability and performance.
Henrik Rosendahl is CEO of Akanda, the major contributor and supporter of the open source Astara network virtualization project.