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Manual OpenStack upgrades remain labor-intensive

OpenStack upgrades need to be easier, given how often new versions of the open source cloud management platform are released, IT pros say.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- With new versions of the OpenStack cloud management platform released every six months, discussions at OpenStack Summit here this week focused on ways to improve the upgrade process.

Without a way to automate multi-system upgrades between versions of the frequently updated open source cloud platform, users are left with a disruptive manual process that can run into circular dependencies among the different elements of OpenStack, such as the Nova compute application program interface and the Keystone identity management application programming interface (API).

The sad thing about this talk is that I could've given the same presentation as the last Summit.

Rob Hirschfeld,
engineer, Dell Inc.

"It's definitely lacking," said David Andrew, an independent consultant who was attending the conference.

Chef cookbooks and Puppet modules should be updated and standardized to ease the upgrade process, he said. As of now, the cookbooks that do exist are either out of date or require such specific configurations that they're narrowly applicable.

Meanwhile, industry progress on these issues has been slow. One presenter at the conference called out the lack of advancements.

"The sad thing about this talk is that I could've given the same presentation at the last Summit," said Rob Hirschfeld, a distinguished engineer at Dell Inc., to open his presentation on migration between versions of OpenStack.

Upgrades are often an afterthought in the software development process, experts said.

"There are so many basic things that [OpenStack's developers] have to work on that the community isn't thinking about upgrades," said Boris Renski, executive vice president of Mirantis Inc., an OpenStack engineering services firm in Mountain View, Calif.

Hirschfeld called for the community to do more to develop OpenStack's native upgrade capabilities. He also estimated that, due in part to upgrade roadblocks, 25% of OpenStack customers remain on the Essex version of the platform, now two versions old. The most recent release, Folsom, runs in 50% of shops and 25% run Grizzly, he said.

Migrating directly from Essex to Grizzly is virtually impossible, according to Hirschfeld.

There simply isn't a silver bullet for these issues, he said, but suggested users who confront upgrade issues with DevOps practices -- which tend to take rapid, small steps forward rather than making fewer large moves -- have had the most success.

"Small steps are best," he said. "They're easier to test, incur less technical debt and expose issues to developers while the code is fresh."

OpenStack as a whole is still just two years old, pointed out OpenStack Foundation Chairman Alan Clark. Improvements have been made, such as the modularization and versioning of APIs, which cuts down on the circular dependency problem.

"As that code gets packaged and deployed and distributed to enterprises, it still has to be stabilized and hardened," Clark said.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchCloudComputing and SearchServerVirtualization. Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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What version of OpenStack are you on?