Container Infrastructure Management Service for OpenStack
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Containers Service

Launchpad blueprint:

Containers share many features in common with Nova instances. For the common features, virt drivers for Nova can be used to surface basic instance functionality. For features that go beyond what can be naturally fit within a virt driver, we propose a new API service that allows for advanced features to be added without conflating the worlds of instances and containers.

Some examples of containers specific features are setting of shell environment variables, and accepting a shell command to execute at runtime. Capturing the STDIO of the process(es) within a container, and tracking the return status of processes are all beyond the scope of what was contemplated for Nova. All of these features will be implemented in the Containers Service.

Problem description

Container technology is rapidly gaining popularity as a way to bundle and deploy applications. Recognizing and adapting to this trend will position OpenStack to be useful not only to clouds that employ bare metal and virtual machine instances, but can remain competitive in offering container services as well.

Nova's concepts of an instance, and the actions that may be taken on it do not match completely with containers.

Use cases

  1. App Consolidation. End-user wants to run multiple small applications in separate operating system environments, but wants to optimize for efficiency to control hosting costs. Each application belongs to the same tenant, so security isolation between applications is nice-to-have but not critical. Isolation is desired primarily for simplified management of the execution environment for each application.

  2. App Portability. End-user wants to create a single container image, and deploy the same image to multiple hosting environments, including OpenStack. Other environments may include local servers, dedicated servers, private clouds, and public clouds. Switching environments requires passing database connection strings by environment variables at the time a container starts to allow the application to use the services available in each environment without changing the container image.

  3. Docker Compatibility. End-user has a Dockerfile used to build an application and its runtime environment and dependencies in a Docker container image. They want an easy way to run the Docker resulting image on an OpenStack cloud.

  4. LXC Compatibility. End-user wants an easy way to remotely create multiple LXC containers within a single Nova instance.

  5. OpenVZ Compatibility. End-user wants an easy way to remotely create multiple OpenVZ containers within a single Nova instance.

  6. Containers-Centric World View. End-user wants to communicate with a single OpenStack API, and request the addition of containers, without the need to be concerned with keeping track of how many containers are already running on a given Nova instance, and when more need to be created. They want to simply create and remove containers, and allow the appropriate resource scheduling to happen automatically.

  7. Platform Integration. Cloud operator already has an OpenStack cloud, and wants to add a service/application centric management system on top. Examples of such systems are Cloud Foundry, Kubernetes, Apache Mesos, etc. The selected system is already Docker compatible. Allow this cloud operator easy integration with OpenStack to run applications in containers. The Cloud Operator now harnesses the power of both the management system, and OpenStack, and does not need to manage a second infrastructure for his/her application hosting needs. All details involving the integration of containers with Nova instances is managed by OpenStack.

  8. Container network. End-user wants to define a custom overlay network for containers, and wants to have admin privilege to manage the network topology. Building a container network can decouple application deployment and management from the underlying network infrastructure, and enable additional usage scenario, such as (i) software-defined networking, and

    (ii) extending the container network (i.e. connecting various resources from multiple hosting environments). End-users want a single service that could help them build the container network, and dynamically modify the network topology by adding or removing containers to or from the network.

  9. Permit secure use of native REST APIs. Provide two models of operation with Magnum. The first model allows Magnum to manage the lifecycle of Pods, ReplicationControllers, and Services. The second model allows end-users to manage the lifecycle of Pods, ReplicationControllers, and Services by providing direct secure access to the native ReST APIs in Kubernetes and possibly Docker.

Long Term Use Cases

These use cases have been identified by the community as important, but unlikely to be tackled in short term (especially prior to incubation). We wish to adapt to these use cases in long term, but this is not a firm project commitment.

  1. Multi-region/multi-cloud support. End-user wants to deploy applications to multiple regions/clouds, and dynamically relocate deployed applications across different regions/clouds. In particular, they want a single service that could help them (i) provision nodes from multiple regions/clouds, thus running containers on top of them, and (ii) dynamically relocate containers (e.g. through container migration) between nodes regardless of the underlying infrastructure.

Proposed change

Add a new API service for CRUD and advanced management of containers. If cloud operators only want to offer basic instance features for their containers, they may use nova with an alternate virt-driver, such as libvirt/lxc or nova-docker. For those wanting a full-featured container experience, they may offer the Containers Service API as well, in combination with Nova instances that contain an OpenStack agent that connects to the containers service through a security controlled agent (daemon) that allows the OpenStack control plane to provision and control containers running on Compute Hosts.

The Containers Service will call the Nova API to create one or more Nova instances inside which containers will be created. The Nova instances may be of any type, depending on the virt driver(s) chosen by the cloud operator. This includes bare-metal, virtual machines, containers, and potentially other instance types.

This allows the following configurations of containers in OpenStack.

  • Containers in Virtual Machine Instances
  • Containers in Bare Metal Instances
  • Containers in Container Instances (nested)

The concept of nesting containers is currently possible if the parent container runs in privileged mode. Patches to the linux kernel are being developed to allow nesting of non-privileged containers as well, which provides a higher level of security.

The spirit of this plan aims to duplicate as little as possible between Nova and the Containers Service. Common components like the scheduler are expected to be abstracted into modules, such as Gantt that can be shared by multiple projects. Until Gantt is ready for use by the Containers Service, we will implement only two provisioning schemes for containers:

  1. Create a container on a specified instance by using a nova instance guid.
  2. Auto-create instances (applies only until the Gantt scheduler is used) 2.1. Fill them sequentially until full. 2.2. Remove them automatically when they become empty.

The above orchestration will be implemented using Heat. This requires some kind of hypervisor painting (such as host aggregates) for security reasons.

The diagram below offers an overview of the system architecture. The OSC box indicates an OpenStack client, which will communicate with the Containers Service through a REST API. The containers service may silently create Nova instances if one with enough capacity to host the requested container is not already known to the Containers service. The containers service will maintain a database "Map" of containers, and what Nova instance each belongs to. Nova creates instances. Instances are created in Nova, and containers belong only to the Containers Service, and run within a Nova instance. If the instance includes the agent software "A", then it may be included in the inventory of the Containers service. Instances that do not contain an agent may not interact with the Containers Service, and can be controlled only by a Nova virt driver.

|   |
| A | = Agent
|   |
|   |
| C | = Container
|   |

Design Principles

  1. Leverage existing OpenStack projects for what they are good at. Do not duplicate functionality, or copy code that can be otherwise accessed through API calls.
  2. Keep modifications to Nova to a minimum.
  3. Make the user experience for end users simple and familiar.
  4. Allow for implementation of all features containers are intended to offer.


1. Extending Nova's existing feature set to offer container features 1.1. Container features don't fit into Nova's idea of compute (VM/Server) 2. A completely separate containers service forked from Nova. 2.1. Would result in large overlap and duplication in features and code

Data model impact

For Nova, None. All new data planned will be in the Containers Service.

REST API impact

For Nova, none. All new API calls will be implemented in the Containers Service. The OpenStack Containers Service API will be a superset of functionality offered by the, The Docker Remote API: with additionals to make is suitable for general use regardless of the backend container technology used, and to be compatible with OpenStack multi-tenancy and Keystone authentication.

Specific Additions:

  1. Support for the X-Auth-Project-Id HTTP request header to allow for multi-tenant use.
  2. Support for the X-Auth-Token HTTP request header to allow for authentication with keystone.

If either of the above headers are missing, a 401 Unauthorized response will be generated.

Docker CLI clients may communicate with a Swarmd instance that is configured to use the OpenStack Containers API as the backend for libswarm. This will allow for tool compatibility with the Docker ecosystem using the officially supported means for integration of a distributed system.

The scope of the full API will cause this spec to be too long to review, so the intent is to deal with the specific API design as a series of Gerrit reviews that submit API code as Not Implemented stubs with docstrings that clearly document the design, so allow for approval, and further implementation.

Security impact

Because Nova will not be changed, there should be no security impacts to Nova. The Containers Service implementation, will have the following security related issues:

  • Need to authenticate against keystone using python-keystoneclient.
  • A trust token from Nova will be needed in order for the Containers Service to call the Nova API on behalf of a user.
  • Limits must be implemented to control resource consumption in accordance with quotas.
  • Providing STDIO access may generate a considerable amount of network chatter between containers and clients through the relay. This could lead to bandwidth congestion at the relays, or API nodes. An approach similar to how we handle serial console access today will need to be considered to mitigate this concern.

Using containers implies a range of security considerations for cloud operators. These include:

  • Containers in the same instance share an operating system. If the kernel is exploited using a security vulnerability, processes in once container may escape the constraints of the container and potentially access other resources on the host, including contents of other containers.
  • Output of processes may be persisted by the containers service in order to allow asynchronous collection of exit status, and terminal output. Such content may include sensitive information. Features may be added to mitigate the risk of this data being replicated in log messages, including errors.
  • Creating containers usually requires root access. This means that the Agent may need to be run with special privileges, or be given a method to escalate privileges using techniques such as sudo.
  • User provided data is passed through the API. This will require sensible data input validation.

Notifications impact

Contemplated features (in subsequent release cycles):

  • Notify the end user each time a Nova instance is created or deleted by the Containers service, if (s)he has registered for such notifications.
  • Notify the user each on CRUD of containers containing start and end notifications. (compute.container.create/delete/etc)
  • Notify user periodically of existence of container service managed containers (ex compute.container.exists)

Other end user impact

The user interface will be a REST API. On top of that API will be an implementation of the libswarm API to allow for tools designed to use Docker to treat OpenStack as an upstream system.

Performance Impact

The Nova API will be used to create instances as needed. If the Container to Instance ratio is 10, then the Nova API will be called at least once for every 10 calls to the Containers Service. Instances that are left empty will be automatically deleted, so in the example of a 10:1 ratio, the Nova API will be called to perform a delete for every 10 deletes in the Container Service. Depending on the configuration, the ratio may be as low as 1:1. The Containers Service will only access Nova through its API, not by accessing its database.

Other deployer impact

Deployers may want to adjust the default flavor used for Nova Instances created by the Containers Service.

There should be no impact on users of prior releases, as this introduces a new API.

Developer impact

Minimal. There will be minimal changes required in Nova, if any.



Primary assignee: aotto

Other contributors: andrew-melton ewindisch

Work Items

  1. Agent
  2. Relay
  3. API Service
  4. IO Relays


  1. <Links to Agent Blueprint and Spec here, once ready>
  2. Early implementations may use libswarm, or a python port of libswarm to implement Docker API compatibility.


Each commit will be accompanied with unit tests, and Tempest functional tests.

Documentation Impact

A set of documentation for this new service will be required.


  • Link to high level draft proposal from the Nova Midcycle Meetup for Juno: PDF
  • Libswarm Source