Support Rolling Upgrade

This proposes support for “rolling upgrades” of ironic, which will allow operators to roll out new code to the ironic services without having to restart all services on the new code simultaneously. There could be minimal downtime when upgrading ironic services. During the upgrade of ironic, instances will not be impacted; they should continue to run and have network access. There might be slightly longer delays for ironic operations to be performed on baremetal nodes though.

This support for rolling upgrade will satisfy the criteria mentioned in the OpenStack governance [1].

Problem description

People operating an OpenStack cloud face the same problem: how to upgrade the cloud to the latest version so as to enjoy the new features and changes.

The upgrade of a cloud is typically done one component at a time. For example, these components of OpenStack could be upgraded in this order:

  1. upgrade keystone

  2. upgrade glance

  3. upgrade ironic

  4. upgrade nova

  5. upgrade neutron

  6. upgrade cinder

Ironic already supports “cold upgrades” [14], where the ironic services have to be down during the upgrade. For time-consuming upgrades, it may be unacceptable for the services to be unavailable for a long period of time. The steps [13] to do a cold upgrade could be:

  1. stop all ironic-api and ironic-conductor services

  2. uninstall old code

  3. install new code

  4. update configurations

  5. DB sync (most time-consuming task)

  6. start ironic-api and ironic-conductor services

A rolling upgrade would provide a better experience for the users and operators of the cloud. In the context of ironic’s rolling upgrade, it means it wouldn’t be necessary to upgrade all the ironic-api and ironic-conductor services simultaneously as in a cold upgrade. A rolling upgrade would allow individual ironic-api and ironic-conductor services to be upgraded one at a time, with the rest of the services still available. This upgrade would have minimal downtime.

Although we’d like the rolling upgrade solution presented here to be the same as that used by nova’s upgrade process [2], there are some differences between nova and ironic that prevent us from using the same solution. The differences are mentioned below, in other sections of this specification.

There have been several discussions about rolling upgrades ([3], [9], [10]).

Proposed change

For a rolling upgrade to have minimal downtime, there should be at least two ironic-api services and two ironic-conductor services running.

Since ironic doesn’t support database downgrades, rollbacks will not be supported.

To support rolling upgrade for ironic, the following are needed:

  • code changes

  • a contribution guide for developers and reviewers

  • a multi-node grenade CI to prevent breaking the mechanism of rolling upgrade

  • a rolling upgrade operation guide for operators.

The following sub-sections describe:

  • support for rolling upgrades between ironic releases

  • the proposed rolling upgrade process

  • the changes that are needed

Rolling upgrades between releases

Ironic follows the release-cycle-with-intermediary release model [6]. The releases are semantic-versioned [7], in the form <major>.<minor>.<patch>. We refer to a “named release” of ironic as the release associated with a development cycle like Mitaka.

In addition, ironic follows the standard deprecation policy [8], which says that the deprecation period must be at least three months and a cycle boundary. This means that there will never be anything that is both deprecated and removed between two named releases.

Rolling upgrades will be supported between:

  • Named release N to N+1. (N would start with Newton if this feature is merged in Ocata.)

  • Any named release to its latest revision, containing backported bug fixes. Because those bug fixes can contain improvements to the upgrade process, the operator should patch the system before upgrading between named releases.

  • Most recent named release N (and semver releases newer than N) to master. As with the above bullet point, there may be a bug or a feature introduced on a master branch, that we want to remove before publishing a named release. Deprecation policy allows to do this in a 3 month time frame [8]. If the feature was included and removed in intermediate releases, there should be a release note added, with instructions on how to do a rolling upgrade to master from an affected release or release span. This would typically instruct the operator to upgrade to a particular intermediate release, before upgrading to master.

Rolling upgrade process

The rolling upgrade process to upgrade ironic from version FromVer to the next version ToVer is as follows:

  1. Upgrade Ironic Python Agent image before upgrading ironic.

  2. Upgrade DB schema to ToVer via ironic-dbsync upgrade. Ironic already has the code in place to do this. However, a new DB migration policy (described below in New DB model change policy) needs to be documented.

  3. Pin RPC and IronicObject versions to the same FromVer for both ironic-api and ironic-conductor services, via the new configuration option described below in RPC and object version pinning.

  4. Upgrade code and restart ironic-conductor services, one at a time.

  5. Upgrade code and restart ironic-api services, one at a time.

  6. Unpin RPC and object versions so that the services can now use the latest versions in ToVer. This is done via updating the new configuration option described below in RPC and object version pinning and then restarting the services. ironic-conductor services should be restarted first, followed by the ironic-api services. This is to ensure that when new functionality is exposed on the unpinned API service (via API micro version), it is available on the backend.

  7. Run a new command ironic-dbsync online_data_migration to ensure that all DB records are “upgraded” to the new data version. This new command is discussed in a separate RFE [12] (and is a dependency for this work).

  8. Upgrade ironic client libraries (e.g. python-ironicclient) and other services which use the newly introduced API features and depend on the new version.

The above process will cause the ironic services to be running the FromVer and ToVer releases in this order (where ‘step’ refers to the steps above):





all FromVer

all FromVer


all FromVer

some FromVer, some ToVer-pinned


all FromVer

all ToVer-pinned


some FromVer, some ToVer-pinned

all ToVer-pinned


all ToVer-pinned

all ToVer-pinned


all ToVer-pinned

some ToVer-pinned, some ToVer


all ToVer-pinned

all ToVer


some ToVer-pinned, some ToVer

all ToVer


all ToVer

all ToVer

New DB model change policy

This is not a code change but it impacts the SQLAlchemy DB model and needs to be documented well for developers as well as reviewers. This new DB model change policy is as follows:

  • Adding new items to the DB model is supported.

  • The dropping of columns/tables and corresponding objects fields is subject to ironic deprecation policy [8]. But its alembic script has to wait one more deprecation period, otherwise an “unknown column” exception will be thrown when FromVer services access the DB. This is because ironic-dbsync upgrade upgrades the DB schema but FromVer services still contain the dropped field in their SQLAlchemy DB model.

  • alter_column like rename or resize is not supported anymore. This has to be split into multiple operations, like add column, then remove column. Some changes may have to be split into multiple releases to maintain compatibility with an old SQLAlchemy model.

  • some implementations of ALTER TABLE like adding foreign keys in PostgreSQL may impose table locks and cause downtime. If the change cannot be avoided and the impact is significant (the table can be frequently accessed and/or store a large dataset), these cases must be mentioned in the release notes.

RPC and object version pinning

For the ironic (ironic-api and ironic-conductor) services to be running old and new releases at the same time during a rolling upgrade, the services need to be able to handle different RPC versions and object versions.

[4] has a good description of why we need RPC versioning, and describes how nova deals with it. This proposes taking a similar approach in ironic.

For object versioning, ironic uses oslo.versionedobjects. [5] describes nova’s approach to the problem. Unfortunately, ironic’s solution is different, since ironic has a more complex situation. In nova, all database access (reads and writes) is done via the nova-conductor service. This makes it possible for the nova-conductor service to be the only service to handle conversions between different object versions. (See [5] for more details.) Given an object that it doesn’t understand, a (non nova-conductor) service will issue an RPC request to the nova-conductor service to get the object converted to its desired target version. Furthermore, for a nova rolling upgrade, all the non-nova-compute services are shut down, and then restarted with the new releases; nova-conductor being the first service to be restarted ([2]). Thus, the nova-conductor services are always running the same release and don’t have to deal with differing object versions amongst themselves. Once they are running the new release, they can handle requests from other services running old or new releases.

Contrast that to ironic, where both the ironic-api and ironic-conductor services access the database for reading and writing. Both these services need to be aware of different object versions. For example, ironic-api can create objects such as Chassis, Ports, and Portgroups, saving them directly to the database without going through the conductor. We cannot take down the ironic-conductor in a similar way as the nova-conductor service, because ironic-conductor does a whole lot more than just interacting with the database, and at least one ironic-conductor needs to be running during a rolling upgrade.

A new configuration option will be added. It will be used to pin the RPC and IronicObject (e.g., Node, Conductor, Chassis, Port, and Portgroup) versions for all the ironic services. With this configuration option, a service will be able to properly handle the communication between different versions of services.

The new configuration option is: [DEFAULT]/pin_release_version. The default value of empty indicates that ironic-api and ironic-conductor will use the latest versions of RPC and IronicObjects. Its possible values are releases, named (e.g. ocata) or sem-versioned (e.g. 7.0).

Internally, ironic will maintain a mapping that indicates the RPC and IronicObject versions associated with each release. This mapping will be maintained manually. (It is possible, but outside the scope of this specification, to add an automated process for the mapping.) Here is an example:

  • objects_mapping:

    {'mitaka': {'Node': '1.14', 'Conductor': '1.1',
                'Chassis': '1.3', 'Port': '1.5', 'Portgroup': '1.0'},
     '5.23': {'Node': '1.15', 'Conductor': '1.1',
              'Chassis': '1.3', 'Port': '1.5', 'Portgroup': '1.0'}}
  • rpc_mapping:

    {'mitaka': '1.33', '5.23': '1.33'}

During a rolling upgrade, the services using the new release should set this value to be the name (or version) of the old release. This will indicate to the services running the new release, which RPC and object versions that they should be compatible with, in order to communicate with the services using the old release.

Handling RPC versions

ConductorAPI.__init__() already sets a version_cap variable to the latest RPC API version and passes it to the RPCClient as an initialization parameter. This version_cap is used to determine the maximum requested message version that the RPCClient can send.

In order to make a compatible RPC call for a previous release, the code will be changed so that the version_cap is set to a pinned version (corresponding to the previous release) rather than the latest RPC_API_VERSION. Then each RPC call will customize the request according to this version_cap.

Handling IronicObject versions

Internally, ironic services (ironic-api and ironic-conductor) will deal with IronicObjects in their latest versions. Only at these boundaries, when the IronicObject enters or leaves the service, will we need to deal with object versioning:

  • getting objects from the database: convert to latest version

  • saving objects to the database: if pinned, save in pinned version; else save in latest version

  • serializing objects (to send over RPC): if pinned, send pinned version; else send latest version

  • deserializing objects (receiving objects from RPC): convert to latest version

The ironic-api service also has to handle API requests/responses based on whether or how a feature is supported by the API version and object versions. For example, when the ironic-api service is pinned, it can only allow actions that are available to the object’s pinned version, and cannot allow actions that are only available for the latest version of that object.

To support this:

  • add a new column named version to all the database tables (SQLAlchemy models) of the IronicObjects. The value is the version of the object that is saved in the database.

    This version column will be null at first and will be filled with the appropriate versions by a data migration script. If there is a change in Ocata that requires migration of data, we will check for null in the new version column.

    No project uses the version column mechanism for this purpose, but it is more complicated without it. For example, Cinder has a migration policy which spans 4 releases in which data is duplicated for some time. Keystone uses triggers to maintain duplicated data in one release cycle. In addition, the version column may prove useful for zero-downtime upgrades (in the future).

  • add a new method IronicObject.get_target_version(self). This will return the target version. If pinned, the pinned version is returned. Otherwise, the latest version is returned.

  • add a new method IronicObject.convert_to_version(self, target_version). This method will convert the object into the target version. The target version may be a newer or older version that the existing version of the object. The bulk of the work will be done in the new helper method IronicObject._convert_to_version(self, target_version). Subclasses that have new versions should redefine this to perform the actual conversions.

  • add a new method IronicObject.do_version_changes_for_db(self). This is described below in Saving objects to the database (API/conductor –> DB).

  • add a new method IronicObjectSerializer._process_object(self, context, objprim). This is described below in Receiving objects via RPC (API/conductor <- RPC).

In the following,

  • The old release is FromVer; it uses version ‘1.14’ of a Node object.

  • The new release is ToVer; it uses version ‘1.15’ of a Node object – this has a deprecated extra field and a new meta field that replaces extra.

  • db_obj[‘meta’] and db_obj[‘extra’] are the database representations of those node fields.

Getting objects from the database (API/conductor <– DB)

Both ironic-api and ironic-conductor services read values from the database. These values are converted to IronicObjects via the existing method IronicObject._from_db_object(context, obj, db_object). This method will be changed so that the IronicObject will be in the latest version, even if it was in an older version in the database. This is done regardless of the service being pinned or not.

Note that if an object is converted to a later version, that IronicObject will retain any changes resulting from that conversion (in case the object later gets saved in the latest version).

For example, if the node in the database is in version 1.14 and has db_obj[‘extra’] set:

  • a FromVer service will get a Node with node.extra = db_obj[‘extra’] (and no knowledge of node.meta since it doesn’t exist).

  • a ToVer service (pinned or unpinned), will get a Node with:

    • node.meta = db_obj[‘extra’]

    • node.extra = None

    • node._changed_fields = [‘meta’, ‘extra’]

Saving objects to the database (API/conductor –> DB)

The version used for saving IronicObjects to the database is determined as follows:

  • for an unpinned service, the object will be saved in its latest version. Since objects are always in their latest version, no conversions are needed.

  • for a pinned service, the object will be saved in its pinned version. Since objects are always in their latest version, the object will need to be converted to the pinned version before being saved.

The new method IronicObject.do_version_changes_for_db() will handle this logic, returning a dictionary of changed fields and their new values (similar to the existing oslo.versionedobjects.VersionedObjectobj.obj_get_changes()). Since we do not keep track internally, of the database version of an object, the object’s version field will always be part of these changes.

The Rolling upgrade process (at step 6.1) ensures that by the time an object can be saved in its latest version, all services are running the newer release (although some may still be pinned) and can handle the latest object versions.

An interesting situation can occur when the services are as described in step 6.1. It is possible for an IronicObject to be saved in a newer version and subsequently get saved in an older version. For example, a ToVer unpinned conductor might save a node in version 1.5. A subsequent request may cause a ToVer pinned conductor to replace and save the same node in version 1.4!

Sending objects via RPC (API/conductor -> RPC)

When a service makes an RPC request, any IronicObjects that are sent as part of that request are serialized into entities or primitives (via oslo.versionedobjects.VersionedObjectSerializer.serialize_entity()). The version used for objects being serialized is as follows:

  • for an unpinned service, the object will be serialized in its latest version. Since objects are always in their latest version, no conversions are needed.

  • for a pinned service, the object will be serialized in its pinned version. Since objects are always in their latest version, the object will need to be converted to the pinned version before being serialized. The converted object will include changes that resulted from the conversion; this is needed so that the service at the other end of the RPC request has the necessary information if that object will be saved to the database.

The IronicObjectSerializer.serialize_entity() method will be modified to do any IronicObject conversions.

Receiving objects via RPC (API/conductor <- RPC)

When a service receives an RPC request, any entities that are part of the request need to be deserialized (via oslo.versionedobjects.VersionedObjectSerializer.deserialize_entity()). For entities that represent IronicObjects, we want the deserialization process to result in IronicObjects that are in their latest version, regardless of the version they were sent in and regardless of whether the receiving service is pinned or not. Again, any objects that are converted will retain the changes that resulted from the conversion, useful if that object is later saved to the database.

The deserialization method invokes VersionedObjectSerializer._process_object() to deserialize and get the IronicObject. We will add IronicObjectSerializer._process_object() to convert the IronicObject to its latest version.

For example, a FromVer ironic-api could issue an update_node() RPC request with a node in version 1.4, where node.extra was changed (so node._changed_fields = [‘extra’]). This node will be serialized in version 1.4. The receiving ToVer pinned ironic-conductor deserializes it and converts it to version 1.5. The resulting node will have node.meta set (to the changed value from node.extra in v1.4), node.extra = None, and node._changed_fields = [‘meta’, ‘extra’].


A cold upgrade can be done, but it means the ironic services will not be available during the upgrade, which may be time consuming.

Instead of having the services always treat objects in their latest versions, a different design could be used, for example, where pinned services treat their objects in their pinned versions. However, after some experimentation, this proved to have more (corner) cases to consider and was more difficult to understand. This approach would make it harder to maintain and trouble-shoot in the future, assuming reviewers would be able to agree that it worked in the first place!

What if we changed the ironic-api service, so that it had read-only access to the DB and all writes would go via the ironic-conductor service. Would that simplify the changes needed to support rolling upgrades? Perhaps; perhaps not. (Although this author thinks it would be better, regardless, to have all writes being done by the conductor.) With or without this change, we need to ensure that objects are not saved in a newer version (i.e., that is newer than the version in the older release) until all services are running with the new release – step 5.2 of the Rolling upgrade process. The solution described in this document has objects being saved in their newest versions starting in step 6.1, because it seemed conceptually easy to understand if we save objects in their latest versions only when a service is unpinned. We’d need a similar mechanism regardless.

Of course, there are probably other ways to handle this, like having all services “register” what versions they are running in the database and leveraging that data somehow. Dmitry Tantsur mused about whether some remote synchronization stuff (e.g. etcd) could be used for services to be aware of the upgrade process.

Ideally, ironic would use some “OpenStack-preferred” way to implement rolling upgrades but that doesn’t seem to exist, so this tries to leverage the work that nova did.

Data model impact

A DB migration policy is adopted and introduced above in New DB model change policy.

A new version column will be added to all the database tables of the IronicObject objects. Its value will be the version of the object that is saved in the database.

State Machine Impact


REST API impact

There is no change to the REST API itself.

During the rolling upgrade process, the API services may run in different versions at the same time. Both API service versions should be compatible with the python-ironicclient library from the older release (we already use microversions to guarantee this). New API functionality is available everywhere only after completing the upgrade process, which includes unpinning of the internal RPC communication versions on all ironic services. Therefore, until the upgrade is completed, API requests should not be issued for new functionality (i.e., with new API micro versions) since there is no guarantee that they will work properly.

As a future enhancement (outside the scope of this specification), we could disallow requests for new functionality while the API service is pinned.

Client (CLI) impact


“ironic” CLI


“openstack baremetal” CLI


RPC API impact

There is no change to the RPC API itself, although changes are needed for supporting different RPC API versions. version_cap will be set to the pinned version (the previous release) to make compatible RPC calls of the previous release.

Developers should keep this in mind when changing an existing RPC API call.

Driver API impact


Nova driver impact

Since there is no change to the REST API, there is no need to change the nova driver. Ironic should be upgraded before nova, and nova calls ironic using a specific micro version that will still be supported in the upgraded ironic. Thus everything will work fine without any changes to the nova driver.

Ramdisk impact


Security impact


Other end user impact


Scalability impact


Performance Impact

Operations which involve migration of data may take longer during the upgrade. Each such change should be mentioned in the release notes provided with the impacted release.

Other deployer impact

During the rolling upgrade, the deployer will use the new configuration option [DEFAULT]/pin_release_version to pin and unpin the RPC and IronicObject versions used by the services, as described above in RPC and object version pinning.

This specification doesn’t address trying to stop/roll back to a previous release.

Developer impact

The code contribution guide [11] will be updated to describe what a developer needs to know and follow. It will mention:

  • before a release is cut, manually add the mapping of release (named or sem-versioned) with the associated RPC and Object versions

  • the new DB model change policy

  • the contribution guide will point to design documentation, as it relates to how new features should be implemented in accordance with rolling upgrades



Primary assignee:

  • xek

  • rloo

Other contributors:

  • mario-villaplana-j (documentation)

Work Items

  1. Add new configuration option [DEFAULT]/pin_release_version and RPC/Object version mappings to releases.

  2. Make Objects compatible with a previous version and handle the interaction with DB and services.

  3. Make IronicObjectSerializer downgrade objects when passing via RPC.

  4. Add tests.

  5. Add documentation and pointers for RPC and oslo objects versioning.

  6. Add documentation for the new DB model change policy.

  7. Add admin documentation for operators, describing how to do a rolling upgrade, including the order in which all related services should be upgraded.


  • Needs the new command ironic-dbsync online_data_migration [12].

  • Needs multi-node grenade CI working.


  • unit tests

  • multi-node grenade CI. This tests that the rolling upgrade process continues to work from fromVer to toVer.

    • grenade does a full upgrade, without pinning. This tests old API/conductor and new API/conductor unpinned. We won’t run online data migrations, so the new services will be reading the old format of the data.

    • grenade multi-node will be running old API/conductor on the subnode, which won’t be upgraded. The primary will have conductor only, which does get upgraded, but is pinned. This tests old API + old data, with 1. old conductor, and 2. new conductor with a pin. Tests are run pre/post-upgrade.

    • We could also move the API to the primary node, upgrade it, pinned, to test new API code with the pin. Since all the object translation happens at the objects layer, this may not be needed since it may not test much that hasn’t already been exercised in the conductor.

    • The above two tests could be merged, if grenade can be set-up to stop the old API service on the subnode and start it on the upgraded primary after doing the first test.

Tests should cover the use cases described in Rolling upgrades between releases as much as possible.

Upgrades and Backwards Compatibility

None; there is no change to the REST API or Driver API.

Documentation Impact

Documentation will be added for:

  • deployers. This will describe the rolling upgrade process and the steps they will need to take. This should be documented or linked from the upgrade guide [13].

  • developers. This will describe what a developer needs to know so that the rolling upgrade process continues to work. This includes documentation on RPC and oslo objects versioning, as well as DB model change policy.