RBD Instance Snapshots


When using RBD as storage for glance and nova, instance snapshots are slow and inefficient, resulting in poor end user experience. Using local disk for the upload increases operator costs for supporting instance snapshots.

As background reading the follow link provides an overview of the snapshotting capabilities available in ceph.


Problem description

RBD is often used to back glance images and nova disks. When using rbd for nova’s disks, nova ‘snapshots’ are slow, since they create full copies by downloading data from rbd to a local file, uploading it to glance, and putting it back into rbd. Since raw images are normally used with rbd to enable copy-on-write clones, this process removes any sparseness in the data uploaded to glance. This is a problem of user experience, since this slow, inefficient process takes much longer than necessary to let users customize images.

For operators, this is also a problem of efficiency and cost. For rbd-backed nova deployments, this is the last part that uses significant local disk space.

Use Cases

This allows end users to quickly iterate on images, for example to customize or update them, and start using the snapshots far more quickly.

For operators, this eliminates any need for large local disks on compute nodes, since instance data in rbd stays in rbd. It also prevents lots of wasted space.

Project Priority


Proposed change

Instead of copying all the data to local disk, keep it in RBD by taking an RBD snapshot in Nova and cloning it into Glance. Rather than uploading the data, just tell Glance about its location in RBD. This way data stays in the Ceph cluster, and the snapshot is far more rapidly usable by the end user.

In broad strokes, the workflow is as follows:

  1. Create an RBD snapshot of the ephemeral disk via Nova in the ceph pool Nova is configured to use.

  2. Clone the RBD snapshot into Glance’s RBD pool. [7]

  3. To keep from having to manage dependencies between snapshots and clones, deep-flatten the RBD clone in Glance’s RBD pool and detach it from the Nova RBD snapshot in ceph. [7]

  1. Remove the RBD snapshot from ceph created in (1) as it is no longer needed.

  2. Update Glance with the location of the RBD clone created and flattend in (2) and (3).

This is the reverse of how images are cloned into nova instance disks when both are on rbd [0].

If any of these steps fail, clean up any partial state and fall back to the current full copy method. Failure of the RBD snapshot method will be quick and usually transient in nature. The cloud admin can monitor for these failures and address the underlying CEPH issues causing the RBD snapshot to fail.

Failures will be reported in the form of stack traces in the nova compute logs.

There are a few reasons for falling back to full copies instead of bailing out if efficient snapshots fail:

  • It makes upgrades graceful, since nova snapshots still work before glance has enough permissions for efficient snapshots (see Security Impact for glance permission details).

  • Nova snapshots still work when efficient snapshots are not possible due to architecture choices, such as not using rbd as a glance backend, or using different ceph clusters for glance and nova.

  • This is consistent with existing rbd behavior in nova and cinder. If cloning from a glance image fails, both projects fall back to full copies when creating volumes or instance disks.


The clone flatten step could be handled as a background task in a green thread, or completely asynchronously as a periodic task. This would increase user-facing performance, as the snapshots would be available for use immediately, but it would also introduce race-condition-like issues around deleting dependent images.

The flatten step could be omitted completely, and glance could be made responsible for tracking the various image dependencies. At the rbd level, an instance snapshot would consist of three things for each disk. This is true of any instance, regardless of whether it was created from a snapshot itself, or is just created from a usual image. In rbd, there would be:

  1. a snapshot of the instance disk

  2. a clone of the instance disk

  3. a snapshot of the clone

(3) is exposed through glance’s backend location. (2) is an internal detail of glance. (1) is an internal detail that nova and glance handle.

At the rbd level, a disk with snapshots can’t be deleted. Hide this from the user if they delete an instance with snapshots by making glance responsible for their eventual deletion, once their dependent snapshots are deleted. Nova does this by renaming instance disks that it deletes in rbd, so glance is aware that they can be deleted.

When a glance snapshot is deleted, it deletes (3), then (2), and (1). If nova has renamed its parent in rbd with a preset suffix, the instance has been destroyed already, so glance tries to delete the original instance disk. The original instance disk will be successfully deleted when the last snapshot is removed.

If glance snapshots are created but deleted before the instance is destroyed, nova will delete the instance disks as usual.

The mechanism nova uses to let glance know it needs to clean up the original disk could be different. It could use an image property with certain restrictions which aren’t possible in the current glance api:

  • it must be writeable only once

  • to avoid exposing backend details, it would need to be hidden from end users

Storing this state in ceph is much easier to keep consistent with ceph, rather than an external database which could become out of sync. It would also be an odd abstraction leak in the glance_store api, when upper layers don’t need to be aware of it at all.

Data model impact


REST API impact


Security impact

Glance will need to be configured with direct_url support enabled in order for Nova to determine what and where to clone the image from, depending on system configurations, this could leak backend credentials [5]. Devstack has already been updated to switch behaviors when Ceph support is requested [6].

Documentation has typically recommended using different ceph pools for glance and nova, with different access to each. Since nova would need to be able to create the snapshot in the pool used by glance, it would need write access to this pool as well.

Notifications impact


Performance Impact

Snapshots of RBD-backed instances would be significantly faster.

Other end user impact

Snapshots of RBD-backed instances would be significantly faster.

Other deployer impact

To use this in an existing installation with authx, adding ‘allow rwx pool=images’ to nova’s ceph user capabilities is necessary. The ‘ceph auth caps’ command can be used for this [1]. If these permissions are not updated, nova will continue using the existing full copy mechanism for instance snapshots because the fast snapshot will fail and nova compute will fall back to the full copy method.

Developer impact




Primary assignee:


Other contributors:

jdurgin pbrady nagyz cfb-n/cburgess

Work Items

Implementation: [4]

The libvirt imagebackend does not currently recognize AMI images as raw (and therefore cloneable) for whatever reason, so this proposed change is of limited utility with a very popular image format. This should be addressed in a separate change.


You need a Havana or newer version of glance as direct URL was added in Havana.


The existing tempest tests with ceph in the gate cover instance snapshots generically. As fast snapshots are enabled automatically, there is no need to change the tempest tests. Additionally, unit tests in nova will verify error handling (falling back to full copies if the process fails), and make sure that when configured correctly rbd snapshots and clones are used rather than full copies.

Documentation Impact

See the security and other deployer impact sections above.


[0] http://specs.openstack.org/openstack/nova-specs/specs/juno/implemented/rbd-clone-image-handler.html

[1] Ceph authentication docs: http://ceph.com/docs/master/rados/operations/user-management/#modify-user-capabilities

[2] Alternative: Glance cleanup patch: https://review.openstack.org/127397

[3] Alternative: Nova patch: https://review.openstack.org/125963

[4] Nova patch: https://review.openstack.org/205282

[5] https://bugs.launchpad.net/glance/+bug/880910

[6] https://review.openstack.org/206039

[7] http://docs.ceph.com/docs/master/dev/rbd-layering/