OpenStack Compute (Nova)
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Cells Layout (v2)

This document describes the layout of a deployment with Cells version 2, including deployment considerations for security and scale. It is focused on code present in Pike and later, and while it is geared towards people who want to have multiple cells for whatever reason, the nature of the cellsv2 support in Nova means that it applies in some way to all deployments.


The concepts laid out in this document do not in any way relate to CellsV1, which includes the nova-cells service, and the [cells] section of the configuration file. For more information on the differences, see the main cells page.


A basic Nova system consists of the following components:

  • The nova-api service which provides the external REST API to users.
  • The nova-scheduler and placement services which are responsible for tracking resources and deciding which compute node instances should be on.
  • An "API database" that is used primarily by nova-api and nova-scheduler (called API-level services below) to track location information about instances, as well as a temporary location for instances being built but not yet scheduled.
  • The nova-conductor service which offloads long-running tasks for the API-level service, as well as insulates compute nodes from direct database access
  • The nova-compute service which manages the virt driver and hypervisor host.
  • A "cell database" which is used by API, conductor and compute services, and which houses the majority of the information about instances.
  • A "cell0 database" which is just like the cell database, but contains only instances that failed to be scheduled.
  • A message queue which allows the services to communicate with each other via RPC.

All deployments have at least the above components. Small deployments likely have a single message queue that all services share, and a single database server which hosts the API database, a single cell database, as well as the required cell0 database. This is considered a "single-cell deployment" because it only has one "real" cell. The cell0 database mimics a regular cell, but has no compute nodes and is used only as a place to put instances that fail to land on a real compute node (and thus a real cell).

The purpose of the cells functionality in nova is specifically to allow larger deployments to shard their many compute nodes into cells, each of which has a database and message queue. The API database is always and only global, but there can be many cell databases (where the bulk of the instance information lives), each with a portion of the instances for the entire deployment within.

All of the nova services use a configuration file, all of which will at a minimum specify a message queue endpoint (i.e. [DEFAULT]/transport_url). Most of the services also require configuration of database connection information (i.e. [database]/connection). API-level services that need access to the global routing and placement information will also be configured to reach the API database (i.e. [api_database]/connection).


The pair of transport_url and [database]/connection configured for a service defines what cell a service lives in.

API-level services need to be able to contact other services in all of the cells. Since they only have one configured transport_url and [database]/connection they look up the information for the other cells in the API database, with records called cell mappings.


The API database must have cell mapping records that match the transport_url and [database]/connection configuration elements of the lower-level services. See the nova-manage man-page-cells-v2 commands for more information about how to create and examine these records.

Service Layout

The services generally have a well-defined communication pattern that dictates their layout in a deployment. In a small/simple scenario, the rules do not have much of an impact as all the services can communicate with each other on a single message bus and in a single cell database. However, as the deployment grows, scaling and security concerns may drive separation and isolation of the services.


This is a diagram of the basic services that a simple (single-cell) deployment would have, as well as the relationships (i.e. communication paths) between them:

digraph services {

graph [pad="0.35", ranksep="0.65", nodesep="0.55", concentrate=true]; node [fontsize=10 fontname="Monospace"]; edge [arrowhead="normal", arrowsize="0.8"]; labelloc=bottom; labeljust=left;

{ rank=same

api [label="nova-api"] apidb [label="API Database" shape="box"] scheduler [label="nova-scheduler"]

} { rank=same mq [label="MQ" shape="diamond"] conductor [label="nova-conductor"] } { rank=same cell0db [label="Cell0 Database" shape="box"] celldb [label="Cell Database" shape="box"] compute [label="nova-compute"] }

api -> mq -> compute conductor -> mq -> scheduler

api -> apidb api -> cell0db api -> celldb

conductor -> apidb conductor -> cell0db conductor -> celldb


All of the services are configured to talk to each other over the same message bus, and there is only one cell database where live instance data resides. The cell0 database is present (and required) but as no compute nodes are connected to it, this is still a "single cell" deployment.

Multiple Cells

In order to shard the services into multiple cells, a number of things must happen. First, the message bus must be split into pieces along the same lines as the cell database. Second, a dedicated conductor must be run for the API-level services, with access to the API database and a dedicated message queue. We call this super conductor to distinguish its place and purpose from the per-cell conductor nodes.

digraph services2 {

graph [pad="0.35", ranksep="0.65", nodesep="0.55", concentrate=true]; node [fontsize=10 fontname="Monospace"]; edge [arrowhead="normal", arrowsize="0.8"]; labelloc=bottom; labeljust=left;

subgraph api {

api [label="nova-api"] scheduler [label="nova-scheduler"] conductor [label="super conductor"] { rank=same apimq [label="API MQ" shape="diamond"] apidb [label="API Database" shape="box"] }

api -> apimq -> conductor api -> apidb conductor -> apimq -> scheduler conductor -> apidb


subgraph clustercell0 {

label="Cell 0" color=green cell0db [label="Cell Database" shape="box"]


subgraph clustercell1 {

label="Cell 1" color=blue mq1 [label="Cell MQ" shape="diamond"] cell1db [label="Cell Database" shape="box"] conductor1 [label="nova-conductor"] compute1 [label="nova-compute"]

conductor1 -> mq1 -> compute1 conductor1 -> cell1db


subgraph clustercell2 {

label="Cell 2" color=red mq2 [label="Cell MQ" shape="diamond"] cell2db [label="Cell Database" shape="box"] conductor2 [label="nova-conductor"] compute2 [label="nova-compute"]

conductor2 -> mq2 -> compute2 conductor2 -> cell2db


api -> mq1 -> conductor1 api -> mq2 -> conductor2 api -> cell0db api -> cell1db api -> cell2db

conductor -> cell0db conductor -> cell1db conductor -> mq1 conductor -> cell2db conductor -> mq2


It is important to note that services in the lower cell boxes only have the ability to call back to the placement API but cannot access any other API-layer services via RPC, nor do they have access to the API database for global visibility of resources across the cloud. This is intentional and provides security and failure domain isolation benefits, but also has impacts on some things that would otherwise require this any-to-any communication style. Check the release notes for the version of Nova you are using for the most up-to-date information about any caveats that may be present due to this limitation.

Caveats of a Multi-Cell deployment

Cross-cell instance migrations

Currently it is not possible to migrate an instance from a host in one cell to a host in another cell. This may be possible in the future, but it is currently unsupported. This impacts cold migration, resizes, live migrations, evacuate, and unshelve operations.

Quotas are now calculated live at the point at which an operation would consume more resource, instead of being kept statically in the database. This means that a multi-cell environment may incorrectly calculate the usage of a tenant if one of the cells is unreachable, as those resources cannot be counted. In this case, the tenant may be able to consume more resource from one of the available cells, putting them far over quota when the unreachable cell returns. In the future, placement will provide us with a consistent way to calculate usage independent of the actual cell being reachable.

Performance of listing instances

With multiple cells, the instance list operation may not sort and paginate results properly when crossing multiple cell boundaries. Further, the performance of a sorted list operation will be considerably slower than with a single cell.


With a multi-cell environment with multiple message queues, it is likely that operators will want to configure a separate connection to a unified queue for notifications. This can be done in the configuration file of all nodes. See the oslo.messaging configuration documentation for more details.

Neutron Metadata API proxy

The Neutron metadata API proxy should be global across all cells, and thus be configured as an API-level service with access to the [api_database]/connection information.

Consoleauth service and console proxies

The consoleauth service should be global across all cells and thus be configured as an API-level service with access to the [api_database]/connection information. The various console proxies should also be global across all cells but they don't need access to the API database.

Future work will deprecate the consoleauth service, store token authorizations in the cell databases, and require console proxies running per cell instead of globally.

Operations Requiring upcalls

If you deploy multiple cells with a superconductor as described above, computes and cell-based conductors will not have the ability to speak to the scheduler as they are not connected to the same MQ. This is by design for isolation, but currently the processes are not in place to implement some features without such connectivity. Thus, anything that requires a so-called "upcall" will not function. This impacts the following:

  1. Instance reschedules during boot
  2. Instance affinity reporting from the compute nodes to scheduler
  3. The late anti-affinity check during server create and evacuate
  4. Querying host aggregates from the cell
  5. Attaching a volume and [cinder]/cross_az_attach=False

The first is simple: if you boot an instance, it gets scheduled to a compute node, fails, it would normally be re-scheduled to another node. That requires scheduler intervention and thus it will not work in Pike with a multi-cell layout. If you do not rely on reschedules for covering up transient compute-node failures, then this will not affect you. To ensure you do not make futile attempts at rescheduling, you should set [scheduler]/max_attempts=1 in nova.conf.

The second two are related. The summary is that some of the facilities that Nova has for ensuring that affinity/anti-affinity is preserved between instances does not function in Pike with a multi-cell layout. If you don't use affinity operations, then this will not affect you. To make sure you don't make futile attempts at the affinity check, you should set [workarounds]/disable_group_policy_check_upcall=True and [filter_scheduler]/track_instance_changes=False in nova.conf.

The fourth is currently only a problem when performing live migrations using the XenAPI driver and not specifying --block-migrate. The driver will attempt to figure out if block migration should be performed based on source and destination hosts being in the same aggregate. Since aggregates data has migrated to the API database, the cell conductor will not be able to access the aggregate information and will fail.

The fifth is a problem because when a volume is attached to an instance in the nova-compute service, and [cinder]/cross_az_attach=False in nova.conf, we attempt to look up the availability zone that the instance is in which includes getting any host aggregates that the is in. Since the aggregates are in the API database and the cell conductor cannot access that information, so this will fail. In the future this check could be moved to the nova-api service such that the availability zone between the instance and the volume is checked before we reach the cell, except in the case of boot from volume where the nova-compute service itself creates the volume and must tell Cinder in which availability zone to create the volume. Long-term, volume creation during boot from volume should be moved to the top-level superconductor which would eliminate this AZ up-call check problem.