LHC Tunnel

LHC Tunnel

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Migrating to Keystone Fernet Tokens

For several OpenStack releases, the Identity service in OpenStack offers an additional token format than UUID, called Fernet. This token format has a series of advantages over the UUID, the most prominent for us is that it doesn't need to be persisted. We were also interested in a speedup of the token creation and validation.

At CERN, we have been using the UUID format for the tokens since the beginning of the cloud deployment in 2013. Normally in the keystone database we have around 300,000 tokens with an expiration of 1 day. In order to keep the database size controlled, we run the token_flush procedure every hour.

In the Mitaka release, all remaining bugs were sorted out and since the Ocata release of OpenStack, Fernet is now the default. Right now, we are running keystone in Mitaka and we decided to migrate to the Fernet token format before the upgrade of the Ocata release.

Before reviewing the upgrade from UUID to Fernet, let's have a brief look on the architecture of the identity service. The service resolves into a set of load balancers and then they redirect to a set of backends running keystone under apache. This allows us to replace/increase the backends transparently.

The very first question is how many keys we would need. If we take the formula from [1]:

fernet_keys = validity / rotation_time + 2

If we have a validity of 24 hours and a rotation every 6 hours, we would need 24/6 + 2 = 6 keys

As we have several backends, the first task is to distribute the keys among the backends, for that we are using puppet that provides the secrets in the /etc/keystone/fernet-keys folder. With that we ensure that a new introduced backend will always have the last set of keys available.

The second task is how to rotate them. In our case we are using a cronjob in our rundeck installation that rotates the secrets and introduces a new one. This job is doing exactly the same as the keystone-manage token-flush command. One important aspect is that on each rotation, you need to reload or restart the Apache daemon to load the keys from the disk.

So we prepare all this changes in the production setup quite some time ago, and we were testing that the keys were correctly updated and distributed. On April 5th, we decided to go on. This is the picture of the API messages during the intervention.

There are two distinct steps in the API messages usage. The first one is a peak of invalid tokens. This is triggered by the end users trying to validate UUID tokens after the change. The second peak is related to OpenStack services that are using trusts, like Magnum and Heat. From our past experience, these services can be affected by a massive invalidation of tokens. The trust credentials are cached and you need to restart both services so both services will get their Fernet tokens.

Below is a picture of the size of the token table in the keystone database, as we are now in Fernet is going slowly down to zero, due to the hourly token_flush command I mentioned earlier.

The last picture is the response time of the identity service during the change. As you can see the response time is better than on UUID as stated in [2]

In the Ocata release, more improvements are on the way to improve the response time, and we are working to update the identity service in the near future.


  1. Fernet token FAQ at https://docs.openstack.org/admin-guide/identity-fernet-token-faq.html
  2. Fernet token performance at http://blog.dolphm.com/openstack-keystone-fernet-tokens/
  3. Payloads for Fernet token format at http://blog.dolphm.com/inside-openstack-keystone-fernet-token-payloads/
  4. Deep dive into Fernet at https://developer.ibm.com/opentech/2015/11/11/deep-dive-keystone-fernet-tokens/


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