Skip to content Skip to navigation Skip to footer

What Is OpenStack?

OpenStack Defined

OpenStack consists of open-source tools used for managing and building platforms for cloud computing. 

What is OpenStack used for? OpenStack gives you Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) tools that allow you to deploy virtual machines (VMs) on demand. Also, when examining what is OpenStack and how it works, you will notice that it enables you to program virtual machines to handle tasks like processing, identity services, storage, and provisioning within the network. 

OpenStack makes it possible for different cloud services to interact with each other. This allows a business to set up private cloud services within its data center.

What Is OpenStack in Networking?

OpenStack networking, also called Neutron, is a project within the overall OpenStack solution. Neutron gives users application programming interfaces (APIs) that are used to provide important networking functions and components, such as the interface, router, switch, port, floating Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, security groups, and more.

In a way, Neutron provides a set of software-defined networking (SDN) tools through APIs. In addition, Neutron is able to integrate with a traditional network that uses existing protocols.

How Does OpenStack Work?

OpenStack is built to manage resources in the data center, specifically computational, storage, and networking tools. 

What does OpenStack do? It aggregates your physical resources, collecting them into one central pool, and then allocates the virtual resources that you need, using this physical pool as its source. In this way, OpenStack can perform network function virtualization (NFV). This enables users to request resources as they need them using self-service portals or APIs.

While this sounds like virtualization, OpenStack does not perform the virtualization itself. Rather, it uses preexisting virtualization technologies.

Benefits of Using OpenStack

OpenStack cloud solutions provide several benefits for businesses that have or are seeking to virtualize elements of their infrastructure or services. Some of these include:

  1. Improving business agility
  2. Increasing the efficiency of core processes
  3. Enhancing the availability of resources
  4. Adding flexibility and adaptability to your infrastructure

With OpenStack, you can construct your own cloud infrastructure. This may be useful for organizations that do not want to expose sensitive data, proprietary information, or the structure of their network with someone helping them set up or implement a web service like Microsoft Azure, Salesforce, or Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

Instead of relying on these services, you can use open-source tools to create your own cloud within your organization’s data center. These capabilities make the following benefits possible:

  1. Shorter time-to-market. With OpenStack, you do not have to wait for the networking services you need. OpenStack puts them all at your fingertips.
  2. Faster innovation. With OpenStack, you have the power to orchestrate and take advantage of self-service tools as you wish. Using this flexibility, you can adjust your workflow to what works best for your team—and custom-design it to make better solutions faster.
  3. Comply with regulations easier. OpenStack gives you the power to make your own private clouds within your data center. This makes it easy to control your access privileges, ensuring that only the eyes that should see assets are able to. When you have granular control over your network policies, you do not have to worry about whether sensitive data ended up being errantly categorized or you have run afoul of another aspect of a regulation.
  4. Need not commit to a single vendor. Because you are in control of provisioning your own cloud resources, there is no need to commit to a vendor for the long term. If you do not like one, you can just move on to the next option.

OpenStack Components

The three main components of OpenStack are Nova, Cellometer, and Neutron, and these are joined by Horizon, Cinder, Orchestration Heat, Swift, Keystone, Glance, and Trove.


The main computing engine powering OpenStack is Nova. It allows end-users to make and manage many virtual servers by way of machine images. Nova acts like a centralized computing workhouse—a brain.


Cellometer has the job of monitoring how cloud services are used by different users, and it then performs the appropriate billing tasks. Cellometer keeps track of how users make use of the system and its components.


Neutron is the networking element of OpenStack. It ensures that the components are able to communicate with each other efficiently. Neutron is a scalable, API-powered system that makes it easier to manage networks. Therefore, the way Neutron works is of primary importance when it comes to network security. Within an SDN like OpenStack, the importance of Neutron cannot be overstated. SDN security can be easier to design and manage with the flexibility Neutron affords to administrators.


Horizon is your web-based interface that makes it possible to interact with OpenStack services. Horizon is a dashboard that makes it easier for system admins to examine what is happening in their OpenStack cloud and then make adjustments if necessary.


Cinder is a block storage element that provides storage for servers and instances running in your cloud environment. Block storage is a storage scheme that organizes sets of data into blocks, which are then accessed by various processes. Cinder gives admins and engineers the flexibility they need to optimize the performance of cloud elements dependent on block storage.

Orchestration Heat

Orchestration Heat gives users the ability to manage the resources made available by the infrastructure of an OpenStack cloud environment. With Orchestration Heat, you can control how different applications access the resources they need to run, as well as generate files that control the resource allocations you design.


Swift is OpenStack’s object and file storage system. Users can leverage Swift to both scale faster and ensure consistent backups of crucial data.


Keystone gives you a central directory of the users who interact with your OpenStack services. You can see which users are making use of which services at a glance, as well as control how users are authenticated and authorized.


Glance is responsible for storing and retrieving the disk image of your virtual machine. These images can then be used as templates the operating system can leverage to deploy fresh VM instances.


Trove provides OpenStack users with a Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) offering, giving you the power to use a relational database without having to worry about configuration, deployment, backups, restores, patching, and monitoring.

How Is OpenStack Used in a Cloud Environment?

What is OpenStack? In the context of cloud computing, OpenStack plays the role of IaaS. The focus of the cloud is to provide a more flexible and scalable environment for end-users via a remote computing ecosystem. The millions of computations necessary to complete a task require considerable processing and storage, and while a desktop computer can handle the load and has the disk space needed for a range of apps, it is not always feasible—or cost-effective—to do so. 

Moreover, with cloud computing, you can simply spin up extra resources as you add more users, making it easy to scale. OpenStack provides the infrastructure that makes it possible for cloud systems to make this happen.

How OpenStack Provides Resources to Users

OpenStack gives users more than just virtualization services. It essentially provides the core functions of a public cloud, enabling users to request services as needed. This means you have the flexibility to request network, compute, and storage resources on demand whenever you need them.

When using OpenStack, you manage all of your services through a portal. The portal controls application programming interfaces (APIs) that provision the services you request. Using the portal, you can not only deploy the services you need, but you can also see what each one is doing and how it is being used in a network topology view. The end result is a flexible, straightforward, customizable cloud platform for building a wide range of solutions. 

OpenStack Use Case: Telecom

Suppose a telecom is using OpenStack to provide communication services to end-users. What is OpenStack cloud in the context of a telecom company? Let's say the telecom starts out with a relatively small customer base, servicing around 5,000 total users. Every time these people connect with each other, their messages and calls have to be sent through the telecom’s network.

Word starts spreading about the great service the telecom is providing, and more users start signing up. With a traditional platform, the telecom company may have to heavily invest in new equipment and staff to make sure their network can handle the new load. But because they are using the cloud, they can gain access to what they need as they need it.

OpenStack forms the bridge between the telecom’s needs and the resources that help them meet them. They can add additional virtual processors (vCPUs), for example, to manage the computational load it takes to add new users as they sign on. OpenStack gives them the ability to provision these anywhere in their network, as well as see how they are functioning.

How Fortinet Can Help?

With FortiGate-VM on OpenStack, you get the convenience and flexibility of OpenStack along with the security of a FortiGate Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW). With a FortiGate virtual appliance combined with OpenStack’s Neutron network services, you can custom-build your network, structuring it around key business objectives—while benefiting from the deep packet inspection (DPI)- and machine learning-powered protections of a FortiGate NGFW.


What are the pros and cons of OpenStack?

The pros of OpenStack include the flexibility and in-house modular control it provides anyone who wants to set up their own cloud. This can enhance security, reliability, and scalability.

The most significant cons of OpenStack are the learning curve you have to overcome, as well as the work hours and human resources you need to get the system up and running. OpenStack’s most critical functions can be achieved using existing cloud services.

Why is OpenStack popular?

OpenStack is popular because it is open-source, flexible, scalable, and gives you control over your own cloud.

What makes OpenStack unique?

OpenStack is unique in that its services are packaged in a way that enables engineers to create a cloud environment from scratch. Unlike traditional DIY cloud services, OpenStack has organized each necessary feature into specific services, making creation and management more straightforward.