Neutron replaced an older version of the network service called Quantum, which was introduced as a part of the Folsom release of OpenStack. Before Quantum came into the picture, the networking of the Nova components was controlled by Nova networking, a subcomponent of Nova. The name of the networking component was changed from Quantum to Neutron due to a trademark conflict (Quantum was a trademark of a tape-based backup system).

While Neutron is the way to go, if you need only simple networking in your cloud, you can still choose to use the Nova network feature and ignore the Neutron service completely. But if you do go the Neutron route, you can easily offer several services, such as load balancing as a service (using HA proxy) and VPN ...

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