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The intent of the API is that it reflects what is presented to the user.

A flavor is just a set of options that are generally appear often together. (ram, disk, vcpus as you put it). The reason this happens is that the truly optimal settings can be very hard to derive. Instead, a user uses flavor '2' for his VM and that runs like crap so then he tries flavor '3' and that works and we are good.

I haven't been around for OS development but I think this scheme evolved out of long experience of typing in the same options over and over again.