Searchlight Architecture

The OpenStack Search Service

Searchlight is a microservice based architecture that provides advanced and multi-tenant searching capabilities across multiple cloud services through indexing into Elasticsearch. Once indexed, users are able to search through all internal data associated with an OpenStack service through a single API with a consistent interface. These searches can be quite complex, are blazingly fast, and easily paginated. Without Searchlight it can be necessary to make calls to multiple services to retrieve resource information.

All documents in Elasticsearch are protected by Searchlight with role-based access control (RBAC) for data security and protection. RBAC protection prevents unauthorized users from accessing data that they are not permitted to view. Searchlight uses RBAC in three ways to protect the data:

  1. Network Restriction: Elasticsearch is not directly accessible. It resides on a restricted network behind Searchlight. The only way to access the data within Elasticsearch is indirectly through the Searchlight. API endpoints. Users need to be authenticated to access these endpoints.
  2. Document Separation: Each resource is indexed twice in Elasticsearch. Once for the admin user and once for all others. The document associated with the admin has all fields present. The document associated with non-admins has all admin-only fields removed. This model prevents a non-admin from viewing any admin-only fields since these fields are not present in the document at all.
  3. Pre-Query Protection: Searchlight will inject RBAC-based protection into all queries before they get sent to Elasticsearch. In general the pre-query RBAC injection will provide gross level protection. For example, entire projects that the user does not have access to. See Figure 2.
  4. Post-Query Protection: Searchlight uses the RBAC-based protection to filter the response to each query in order to remove any sensitive data before returning the results to the eagerly waiting user. In general the post-query RBAC filtering will provide fine level protection. For example, specific fields within a document. See Figure 2.

The functionality provided by Searchlight differs greatly from the logging capabilities of OpenStack. The logging services store predetermined messages from the OpenStack services, as opposed to the dynamic, internal state of the OpenStack services.

Primary Users

The primary users are Horizon-based. This includes users accessing their cloud projects (“tenants”) and cloud administrators (IT operations).

Searchlight Components

Searchlight consists of multiple components. The components live in one of two environments: externally on the end-user’s system or internally on an OpenStack deployed system. Figure 1 illustrates how all of these components interact.

Figure 1: Architecture Diagram


Figure 1 shows the relationship between all of the Searchlight components. The external Searchlight components are colored light-grey. The internal Searchlight components are colored peach. The internal non-Searchlight components are brightly colored, as are the arrows indicating the interfaces for these components.

  • Searchlight UI: A plugin for Horizon that provides search support. Lives externally on the end-user’s system.
  • Searchlight User CLI (OpenStack Client plugin): Command-line interface to the Searchlight API. Lives externally on the end-user’s system.
  • Searchlight API: OpenStack Searchlight RESTful API. A separate process running a WSGI web server on top of the python Searchlight framework. All external access (for example, Horizon, browser, and CLI) go through the Searchlight API. The Searchlight API performs read-only accesses of Elasticsearch.
  • HAProxy: High availability load balancer and proxy server for the Searchlight API component. HAProxy enables multiple instances of the Searchlight API to run and allows for better performance, scalability, and reliability of the Searchlight service.
  • Searchlight Listener: A separate Searchlight process that is plugged into the notification MQ for the OpenStack services. Whenever there is a change in state for a resource type in an OpenStack service, a notification is sent to the Searchlight Listener. This results in the OpenStack service state being indexed into Elasticsearch as a document related to that resource type (for example, OS::Nova::Server). The listener is never accessed directly by any of the other Searchlight components.
  • Searchlight Admin CLI (searchlight-manage): A separate process that provides admin support for Searchlight. The main functionality is re-indexing support. Connects to various OpenStack services and loads data from them into the Elasticsearch indices. The admin needs to log in directly to a Searchlight node and run the Searchlight Admin CLI from that node. The Searchlight Admin CLI performs read/write accesses to Elasticsearch. Lives internally on an OpenStack deployed system.
  • Elasticsearch: A database service used to index information about selected services. Elasticsearch is meant to be shared by multiple OpenStack projects, not just Searchlight. This implies that there may be multiple indices within Elasticsearch. All Elasticsearch indices used by Searchlight are created in a way so as to be unique to Searchlight. This will prevent any duplication between Searchlight and other OpenStack projects that may be sharing Elasticsearch. Lives internally on an OpenStack deployed system.
  • RabbitMQ: Messaging Queue used for accessing the OpenStack’s OSLO notification MQ. Each OpenStack service will place notifications for any state change in RabbitMQ. The Searchlight listener will pull this notifications from RabbitMQ and process them. Lives internally on an OpenStack deployed system. All access of the notification MQ is done through OSLO messaging.
  • OpenStack Services: Various OpenStack Services from which Searchlight gathers information through internal plugins. The current list of supported OpenStack services are: Cinder, Designate, Glance, Neutron, Nova, Swift. Searchlight accesses the services as an admin, not as a regular user. This admin access is required for the extra privileges that are needed, for example, to access objects across projects (“tenants”). The credentials for the admin are stored in the config files.
  • OpenStack Service Plugins: Each OpenStack service mentioned above has one or more associated plugins. These plugins live in Searchlight and not in the OpenStack service. The plugins are based on a resource type and not on the OpenStack service. For example, the Cinder Service has two resource types used by Searchlight: OS::Cinder::Volume and OS::Cinder::Snapshot. This results in two plugins for the Cinder service. The architecture is the same for each plugin. The plugins are not a separate process. The plugins live within the Searchlight listener and the Searchlight Admin CLI components.

The numbered arrows represent the interfaces between the components. These interfaces are fully described in Table 1.

Searchlight Eco-System

The Searchlight Eco-system is illuminated by Figure 2. We will step through each stage of the Searchlight life-cycle to further explore how the various components interact with each other.

Deployment Stage: This stage is when Searchlight gets instantiated by the admin dev ops. Even though the steps are mentioned as if they are manual steps, they are all done within a deployment process. More deployment stage options are discussed in Figure 4.

  1. The OpenStack services (for example, Nova, Neutron) are started. These services are used by Searchlight, but are not a part of the Searchlight Eco-system. The admin will set up the configuration files for all services that are used by Searchlight, including enabling the notifications that will later be consumed by Searchlight.
  2. Elasticsearch is started. This analytics engine is used by Searchlight, but it is not a part of the Searchlight Eco-system. As a note, other services may also be using Elasticsearch.
  3. The admin sets up the Searchlight configuration file.
  4. The initial indexing for Searchlight occurs (component 2 in Figure 2). This happens when the admin runs the command searchlight-manage index sync on a Searchlight node. Searchlight will pull the data from the OpenStack service’s API and index it into Elasticsearch.
  5. The Searchlight listeners are started (component 3 in Figure 2). This happens when the admin runs the command searchlight-listener At this point, Searchlight is notified of any state changes that occurs in the services. The OpenStack services will push the data to Searchlight, which in turn will index that data into Elasticsearch.
  6. The Searchlight API service is started (component 1 in Figure 2). This happens when the admin runs the command searchlight-api At this point, the Searchlight API is live and anyone can start making queries to Searchlight.

Running Stage (automatic): This stage consumes the vast majority of the Searchlight life cycle. The running stage is further highlighted in Figure 3.

  1. The Searchlight listeners are actively receiving notifications from the OpenStack services whenever there is a state change.
  2. The Searchlight API service is actively receiving queries from Horizon apps and users.

Maintenance Stage (manual): This stage occurs when the admin needs to analyze the state of Searchlight Eco-system or make corrections to it.

  1. To verify there are no orphaned Elasticsearch indices, the admin can view the Elasticsearch indices being used by Searchlight using the searchlight-manage command. Any orphaned indices will be taken care of through Elasticsearch and not through Searchlight. See Elasticsearch Index Cleanup.
  2. If the Elasticsearch data is no longer coherent with the OpenStack services, the admin will need to re-index Elasticsearch. This is done by running the command searchlight-manage similarly to step 4 in the deployment stage. See Bulk indexing.

Figure 2: Searchlight Eco-System


Searchlight Flow

The main portion of the Eco-system, the running stage, is showcased in Figure 3. The diagram is from the viewpoint of the users of the Eco-system.

The clients will access the OpenStack services. This could include issuing commands to create a new server, delete a volume or modify a networking subnet. The commands can be sent directly to the OpenStack service’s API or indirectly through the Horizon dashboard. Once these commands are executed by the OpenStack services, the OpenStack services will notify Searchlight of the resulting state changes.

Simultaneously, the user can make queries of Searchlight to better understand the entire OpenStack Eco-system. These queries can be made directly through the Searchlight API or indirectly through the Horizon dashboard.

Figure 3: Searchlight Flow


Searchlight Scaling

When deploying Searchlight, the Eco-system is scaled in multiple ways. This scaling is done for both performance and reliability. Both the Searchlight API and the Searchlight listener are stateless microservices. This makes it easier to scale them. Figure 4 shows this in glorious color.

Searchlight API Services:

  • Multiple instances of the Searchlight API service can be deployed and placed behind a load balancer. The load balancer hides the details of the Searchlight API services from the user. All user API access will go through the load balancer. In addition, the WSGI web service has multiple threads handling all requests.

Searchlight Listeners:

  • There are multiple notification workers that are receiving messages from the OpenStack services. The number of workers can be statically specified in the Searchlight configuration file. In addition, each type of resource indexed by Searchlight can be scaled independently by spawning different processes with different configuration files.


  • Elasticsearch is deployed with multiple nodes in a cluster. Each cluster can also have multiple shards and replicas. The number of nodes, shards and replicas are specified in the Elasticsearch configuration file. But the number of shards and replicas can be overwritten on a per-index basis by Searchlight. See Indexing model

Figure 4: Searchlight Scaling


Component Interfaces

Tables 1 and 2 provide more details with the interfaces in Figure 1. These details are geared toward understanding the security model and analyzing potential threats for Searchlight.

Table 1: Interfaces

Interface Network protocol Requestor Request Request credentials Request authorization Listener Response Response credentials Description of operation
1 HTTPS Searchlight UI Horizon Searches Session token Admin or User Searchlight API Search results TLS Certificate Search query from Horizon.
1 HTTPS Searchlight User CLI User Searches Session token Admin or User Searchlight API Search results TLS Certificate Search query form user.
2 HTTP Searchlight API Query None None Elasticsearch Query Results None Elasticsearch access to query data.
2 HTTP Searchlight Listener Query/Index None None Elasticsearch Query/Index Results None Elasticsearch access to re-index or query data.
2 HTTP Searchlight Admin CLI Query/Index None None Elasticsearch Query/Index Results None Elasticsearch access to re-index or query data.
3 HTTPS Searchlight Listener Service State Update Session token Admin OpenStack Service State Changes TLS Certificate Querying Service state changes.
3 HTTPS Searchlight Admin CLI Service State Update Session token Admin OpenStack Service State Changes TLS Certificate Querying Service state changes.
4 AMQP Service Connect to MQ Service’s MQ Service MQ Account RabbitMQ State Changes TLS Certificate Service connects to MQ and pushes state changes.
4 AMQP Searchlight Listener Connect to MQ Searchlight’s MQ Searchlight MQ Account RabbitMQ State Changes TLS Certificate Searchlight Listener connects to MQ to listen for state changes pushed by OpenStack services.

Table 2: Default Network Ports

Port / Range Protocol Notes
5671 AMQPS Messaging protocol
9200 HTTP Elasticsearch protocol
9393 HTTPS Searchlight API access

Security Controls

Searchlight’s security and threat analysis can be viewed through multiple control points.

  • Audit: Searchlight performs logging and sends logs to the Logstash central logging service.
  • Authentication: Searchlight requires a valid domain, username and password to access the services. Keystone handles authentication and authorization via session tokens. Note: No authentication is used for Elasticsearch.
  • Authorization: Searchlight provides access to user information. Authentication and authorization is handled by Keystone.
  • Availability: Searchlight uses HAProxy. The users can deploy Elasticsearch in a high-availability mode if needed.
  • Confidentiality: Searchlight API is configured to use TLS, traffic between hosts is communicated using TLS. Data and config files protected via filesystem controls. Note: No TLS between Searchlight and Elasticsearch.
  • Integrity: Data is stored in Elasticsearch, but not backed up. The data is always accessible from the OpenStack services themselves. If data in Elasticsearch ever gets corrupted or out of sync, a resync will restore the data integrity.


Searchlight has dependencies on other components. The OpenStack services are “soft” dependencies. The dependency exists only if the plugin for that particular service is enabled.

  • Elasticsearch
  • RabbitMQ
  • HAProxy
  • Cinder Service
  • Designate Service
  • Glance Service
  • Neutron Service
  • Nova Service
  • Swift Service