For five years, OpenStack contributors have delivered a steady stream of open source solutions to help automate and simplify cloud operations. It began with cloud computing, where KVM has established itself as the hypervisor of choice for OpenStack virtual clouds. Similarly, Ceph has made itself the defacto standard for OpenStack storage. But until recently, advances in OpenStack networking have lagged compute and storage because managing multi-vendor cloud networks remained too hard and time consuming.


Major Network Vendors Have ‘Right-Hand, Left-Hand’ Problem

While most network vendors collaborate on things like interoperability, IP protocols, and network standards, there’s little harmony on Layer 3 network services. Simply put, a virtualized Cisco firewall is not designed to work on Juniper routers. You can’t run an Alcatel deep packet inspection on an Ericsson managed network. And Layer 4-7 application performance management from F5 cannot be abstracted to run on any edge routing platform you choose without significant backend integration work.

This can make things difficult for multi-tenant cloud operators who want to use OpenStack networking to abstract and stitch together multiple network services from multiple network vendors. It’s no small task: we’re talking about multiple software defined network (SDN) controllers, multiple network plug-ins, and multiple billing and operations systems. Simply put, major network vendors have a “right-hand, left-hand” problem. Most network applications from different vendors don’t talk to each other. This makes service-chaining a challenge at best — and impossible at worst.


Introducing Astara For Multi-Vendor Network Harmony

Astara is a newly official OpenStack project under the full control of the OpenStack Foundation. It’s tasked with taking on this challenge of managing multi-vendor network clouds and unifying Layer 3 network applications. The project provides a vendor agnostic network orchestration platform for OpenStack operators. This is no small feat, and includes sophisticated lifecycle management and new abilities to monitor, configure, and manage any layer 3 through 7 network services. It can abstract and spin-up VMs or containers that deliver routing, firewall, and load balancing as a service.

The goal here is to create a vendor neutral, open networking stack that’s ready to simplify the operation of any multi-tenant OpenStack environment. Because it’s Layer-2 agnostic and structured to work with existing networks rather than require their replacement, the project is designed to be compatible, scalable, and developer-friendly to implement and operate. The platform takes event streams from Neutron to significantly simplify monitoring, allowing Astara to make intelligent decisions and update configurations as needed. The production-ready project has been deployed in data centers across North America, and it saved DreamHost 40% t in operating expenses and 70% in capital expenses over VMware NSX.


Power of Open Networks

The power of open networks is best defined by the contributions of its users. By making Astara an official project, the OpenStack Foundation wants to crowdsource network innovation and take advantage of its strong community of network users. Astara intends to make open source clouds faster to set up, simpler to operate, and more robust by adding new services.


Astara’s Liberty release

Astara’s recent first release as an official OpenStack project came with significant technical enhancements, coinciding with the release of OpenStack Liberty. Along with full compatibility with OpenStack Liberty, Astara also works with clouds running the previous OpenStack releases of Kilo and Juno. New for Liberty is a more highly configurable load balancer driver, allowing OpenStack operators to have Astara load and manage only the resources they select. Operators also gain the advantage of faster provisioning, as a new service more quickly provisions Neutron resources onto appliance VMs and manages pools of hot-standby appliance VMs. Astara’s latest also brings higher availability and scaling improvements, making the platform even more ready for primetime than before.


The Prize for OpenStack Cloud Operators

The effects of empowering OpenStack cloud operators with a capable platform for network orchestration and centralized management are important and have been sought after. Astara has the ability to ease the networking complexity most operators currently live with as part of their daily duties running OpenStack clouds. Simplified cloud networking management leads directly to increased network stability and improvements in consistency, performance, and the flexibility with which these systems can be operated. Easier orchestration also is a friend to operating budgets, and can free organizations from the relatively high costs that can come with single vendor lock-in. And, because Astara is open and extensible, cloud operators can both rely upon the platform across their OpenStack networks, and count on it as a fixture in their long-term planning.