What you need to know about OpenStack Liberty

What you need to know about OpenStack Liberty
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The Big Tent approach reaches out to users, but it may complicate an already sprawling system

The 12th overall release of the OpenStack Liberty open source cloud platform debuted today with a mix of new features and a new governance model.

The Big Tent governance system is meant to make OpenStack's ecosystem more open-ended and competitive, and it allows users to better decide which pieces they need most. There's no question Liberty has more components than its predecessors, many of them addressing vital requirements; the question is whether users will find it more or less accessible.

With the new features, OpenStack becomes a more powerful framework for managing VMs. The Nova project, which manages compute infrastructure, now has a revamped edition of technology called Cells. Created by Rackspace, Cells allows users to gather multiple Nova instances and manage them together -- to the benefit of those managing many smaller OpenStack deployments rather than a single large one. This reflects the needs of a significant part of OpenStack's user base, the "telcos and cable companies [that] run a lot of small clouds," according to Jonathan Bryce, executive director of the OpenStack Foundation.

Another major addition, Magnum, allows OpenStack to deploy and run containers in the same way Nova manages and runs VMs. Magnum leverages the existing third-party ecosystem for container management, such as Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, or Mesos.

However, container networking -- a long-standing problem with Docker -- isn't handled through Magnum. Instead, it's managed by OpenStack's Neutron networking component and a Docker network plug-in called Kuryr. Neutron now also provides a role-based access control system, to support wider use of RBACs within OpenStack components.

This sprawl seems like one of the reasons OpenStack's maintainers reorganized the project. It had become, in their own words, "too big for many people to deploy, and too small to fit the features that many people wanted."

The proposed solution is twofold: Reform the inclusion of components, and tag components to describe "which projects are mature, which are security-supported, which are used in more than one public cloud, or which are really massively scalable." The Kilo release of OpenStack used a provisional tagging system to start the process, but Liberty is the first to incorporate tagging more expansively. 

OpenStack distributors Mirantis set aside a blog post to discuss the implications of the Big Tent approach -- cross-project team overload, complexity of testing, release cadence, and most significant, the user bearing the burden of making sense of the results. OpenStack claims tagging will ease the issue in the long run; for example, a user can pick everything labeled "mature" to deploy an instance of OpenStack built with tested components.

Liberty is still new, so the question remains: Will the Big Tent approach make users feel less intimidated by the growing number of moving parts within OpenStack?

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