What is OpenStack? And why is it referred to as “the Linux of the Cloud”?

How was OpenStack born?

We no longer need to tell you about the benefits of the Cloud. Scalability, redundancy and flexibility… And these are only a few of the reasons why you should choose to keep your data and have your applications run in the cloud. For this, you can use a private cloud – your own servers in data centres of e.g. Combell. But you can also go for public cloud services provided by commercial providers, such as Microsoft, VMware or Amazon. Anyhow, each solution provides its own isolated cloud environment.

This is why, in July 2010, the OpenStack project was launched, with NASA as one of the main driving forces. The aim was to offer all organisations – small and large – a way to have hardware run in a standardized manner in the cloud by means of a sort of operating system.

The OpenStack Foundation was established in 2012. Today, it has more than 6,700 members from 83 countries. Large companies from around the world, such as IBM, Dell, Redhat and Cisco, use OpenStack, but they also contribute to its development.

Because, just like Linux, Openstack is an open source project, with a very lively community. Any developer can thus contribute to the code, which is mainly written in Python, and use OpenStack for free, under the Apache 2.0 license. Since OpenStack is open source, the developer can perfectly adapt the code to the individual needs of his customer.

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But what is OpenStack exactly?

The name “OpenStack” relates to three aspects: the software project, the open source foundation of the same name, and the OpenStack community. In this article, we will focus exclusively on the software project.

OpenStack is actually a set of software tools for building and managing cloud computing platforms for public and private clouds. This Infrastructure as a Service makes it easy to quickly add a new instance, on which other cloud components can run. Via a dashboard and APIs, you can deploy virtual machines and other instances on the fly. A typical application is a “platform” on which a developer can create software applications that are delivered to end users.

What is OpenStack made up of?

Since OpenStack is open source, anyone can add extra components to help meet their needs. However, the OpenStack community has collaboratively identified 9 components that constitute the “core” of OpenStack. Therefore, they are officially supported and maintained by the community. These 9 components are:

  1. Computing engine: Nova. It is used for implementing and managing large numbers of virtual machines and other instances.
  2. Storage system: Swift. Instead of referring to objects and files via their location on a disk drive, they are referred to via a unique identifier, which makes scaling much easier.
  3. Block storage: Cinder. This component can access specific locations on a computer, for scenarios in which data access speed is the key aspect.
  4. Networking: Neutron. This component makes sure that every component of the OpenStack environment can communicate with one another.
  5. Dashboard: Horizon. Although developers can access any component of OpenStack directly via an API (Application Program Interface), the Horizon dashboard provides a graphic overview of what is going on, plus the possibility to manage the stack.
  6. Identity Services: Keystone. A central list of all the users of the OpenStack cloud, including all the services they have permission to use in the cloud.
  7. Image services: Glance. With this service, you can define 'images' (i.e. virtual copies) of hard disks as templates. When you implement your instances for new virtual machines, they are automatically configured based on the template.
  8. Telemetry services: Ceilometer. This service is a bit like an accountant: it keeps a count of how much the user uses each component of OpenStack in order to make billing easier.
  9. Orchestration: Heat. Developers can store the requirements of a cloud application in a file in order to define what resources are necessary for that application.

What are the main benefits of OpenStack?

Agility: you can deploy and provide services much faster, but also scale down if necessary.

Better control: via the API, you can access all the components of the stack and manage them directly.

Scalability: according to your needs, you can enable or disable servers, virtual machines and instances with just a click of a button. You only pay for what you use!

In the Templates section, you can define the layout of a server, so that your new servers can be installed automatically based on the template.

Combell is aware of the potential and the user-friendliness of OpenStack, and has therefore decided, a few months ago, to include it in its range of services. Read more about this in the article “OpenStack’s three main benefits” written by Wesley Hof, OpenStack evangelist at Combell.

For more information about options and prices, please check Combell’s OpenStack range. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our OpenStack specialist Siegfried Deleyn or his colleagues.


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