SWITCH Cloud Blog

Openstack Horizon runs on Kubernetes in production at SWITCH

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In April we upgraded the SWITCHengines OpenStack Horizon dashboard to the OpenStack Pike version. But this upgrade was a little bit special, it was more than an Horizon upgrade from Newton to Pike.

Our Horizon deployment is now hosted on a Kubernetes cluster. The cluster is deployed using the playbook k8s-on-openstack that we actively develop. We have been testing this Kubernetes deployment for a while, but it is only when you have to deploy an application on top of it in production that you really learn and you fix real problems.

Horizon is a good application to start learning Kubernetes, because it is completely stateless and it does not require any persistent storage. It is just a GUI to the OpenStack API. The user logs in with his credentials, and Horizon will get a token and will start making API calls with the user’s credentials.

Running Horizon in a single Kubernetes pod for a demo takes probably 5 minutes, but deploying for production usage is far more complex. We needed to address the following issues:

  • Horizontally scale the number of pods, keeping a central memcached or redis cache
  • Allow both IPv4 and IPv6 access to engines.switch.ch
  • Define the Load Balancing architecture
  • Implement a persistent logging system

If you want to run to the solution of all these problems, you can have a look at the project SWITCH-openstack-horizon-k8s-deployment where we have published all the Dockerfiles and the Kubernetes descriptors to recreate our deployment.

Scale Horizontally

Horizon performs much faster when it accesses a memory cache, it is the recommended way to deploy in production. We decided to go for Redis cache.

Creating a Redis service in our namespace with the name redis-master we are able to use the special environment variable ${REDIS_MASTER_SERVICE_HOST} when booting the Horizon container, to make sure all the instances point to the same cache server.

This is a good example of how you combine two services together in a Kubernetes namespace. We can horizontally scale the Horizon pods, but the Horizon deployment is independent from the Redis deployment.

IPv4 and IPv6

We always publish our services on IPv6. In our previous Kubernetes demos we used the OpenStack LBaaS to expose services to the outside world. Unfortunately in the Newton version of OpenStack, the LBaaS lacks proper IPv6 integration. To publish a production service on Kubernetes, we suggest to use an ingress controller. There are several kinds available, but we used the standard Nginx ingress controller. The key idea is that we have a K8s node with an interface exposed to the public Internet where a privileged Docker container is running with –net=host. The container runs Nginx that can bind to IPv6 and IPv4 on the node, but of course it can also reach any other pod on the cluster network.

Define the Load Balancing architecture

I already wrote above that if you need IPv6, you should not use the Openstack LBaaSv2. However I am going to explain why I would not use that kind of load balancer even for IPv4.

The first picture shows the network diagram of a LBaaSv2 deployment. The LoadBalancer is implemented as a network namespace on the network node, called qlbaas-<uuid>, in which a HAProxy process is running. This is a L4 LoadBalancer. The bad thing of this architecture is that when an instance boots, the default gateway configured via DHCP will be the IP address of the neutron router. When we expose a service with the floating IP configured on the outer interface of the LBaaS, in order to force the traffic to follow a symmetric return path, the Load Balancer must perform a DNAT and SNAT operation. This means that the IP packets hitting the Pod have completely lost the information about the source IP address of the original client. Because it is a pure L4 load balancer, we don’t have the possibility to carry this lost information on in a HTTP header. This prevents the operator from building any useful logging system, because once the traffic arrives at the pod, the information about the client is filtered out.

In the next picture we have a look on how the Nginx ingress works. In this case the external traffic is received on a public floating IP that is configured on the virtual machine running the ingress pod, in this case on the master. We terminate the TLS connection at the nginx-ingress. This is necessary because the ingress also has to perform a SNAT and DNAT but it adds to the HTTP requests the X-Forwarded-For header that we use to populate our log files. We could not add the header if we were just moving encrypted packets around.

Another advantage of this solution is that it uses just a normal instance to implement the ingress, this means that you can use in a totally independent way from the version of OpenStack you are running on.

In the future you might be able to use the newer OpenStack Octavia Load Balancer, but at the moment I did not investigate that. All I know is that the solution is really similar, but you will have an OpenStack service VM running an Nginx instance.

Implement a persistent logging system

Pods are short lived and distributed over different VMs that are also ephemeral. To collect the logs, we run docker with the log-driver journald. Once this is set up, all the docker containers running on the host will send their logging output to journald. We then collect this information with journalbeat to send the data to our elastic search cluster. This part is not yet released into our public playbook because is not very portable. If you don’t have a ready-to-use ELK cluster, you would have no benefit from running journalbeat.


It is now almost a month that we have been running in production, and we found the system to be robust and stable. We had no complaints from our users, so we can say that the migration was seamless for our users. We have learned a lot from this experience.

In the next blog post we will describe how we implemented the metrics monitoring, to observe how much memory and CPU cores each pod is consuming. Make sure you keep an eye on our blog for updates.

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