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MLAG Deep Dive: Dynamic MAC Learning

In the first blog post of the MLAG Technology Deep Dive series, we explored the components of an MLAG system and the fundamental control plane requirements.

This post focuses on a major building block of the layer-2 data plane functionality: MAC learning. We’ll keep using the same network topology with two switches and five hosts, and assume our system tries its best to implement hot-potato switching (sending the frames toward the destination MAC address on the shortest possible path).

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netsim-tools VLAN Trunk Example

Last week I described how easy it is to use access VLANs in netsim-tools. Next step: VLAN trunks.

VLAN trunks are supported from netsim-tools release 1.2.2 and are currently implemented on Arista EOS, Cisco IOSv, VyOS, Dell OS10 and Nokia SR Linux.

We’ll add two Linux hosts to the lab topology used in the previous blog post, resulting in two switches, two Linux hosts in red VLAN and two Linux hosts in blue VLAN.

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Data Center Switching ASICs Tradeoffs

A brief mention of Broadcom ASIC families in the Networking Hardware/Software Disaggregation in 2022 blog post triggered an interesting discussion of ASIC features and where one should use different ASIC families.

Like so many things in life, ASIC design is all about tradeoffs. Usually you’re faced with a decision to either implement X (whatever X happens to be), or have high-performance product, or have a reasonably-priced product. It’s very hard to get two out of three, and getting all three is beyond Mission Impossible.

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MLAG Deep Dive: System Overview

Multi-Chassis Link Aggregation (MLAG) – the ability to terminate a Port Channel/Link Aggregation Group on multiple switches – is one of the more convoluted1 bridging technologies2. After all, it’s not trivial to persuade two boxes to behave like one and handle the myriad corner cases correctly.

In this series of deep dive blog posts, we’ll explore the intricacies of MLAG, starting with the data plane considerations and the control plane requirements resulting from the data plane quirks. If you wonder why we need all that complexity, remember that Ethernet networks still try to emulate the ancient thick yellow cable that could lose some packets but could never reorder packets or deliver duplicate packets.

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VXLAN-Focused Design Clinic in June 2022

ipSpace.net subscribers are probably already familiar with the Design Clinic: a monthly Zoom call in which we discuss real-life design- and technology challenges. I started it in September 2021 and it quickly became reasonably successful; we covered almost two dozen topics so far.

Most of the challenges contributed for the June 2022 session were focused on VXLAN use cases (quite fitting considering I just updated the VXLAN Technical Deep Dive webinar), including:

  • Can we implement Data Center Interconnect (DCI) with VXLAN? (Yes, but…)
  • Can we run VXLAN over SD-WAN (and does it make sense)? (Yes/No)
  • What happened to traditional MPLS/VPN Enterprise core and can we use VXLAN/EVPN instead? (Still there/Maybe)
  • Should we use routers or switches as data center WAN edge devices, and how do we integrate them with VXLAN/EVPN data center fabric? (Yes 😊)

For more details, join us on June 6th. There’s just a minor gotcha: you have to be an active ipSpace.net subscriber to do it.

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netsim-tools Simple VLAN Example

I had no idea how convoluted VLANs could get until I tried to implement them in netsim-tools. We’re not done yet – we have access VLANs, VLAN trunks (including native VLAN support), and VLAN (SVI) interfaces, but we’re still missing routed VLAN subinterfaces – but we have enough functionality to show you a few VLAN examples.

We’ll start with the simplest option: a single VLAN stretched across two bridges switches with two Linux hosts connected to it. netsim-tools can configure VLANs on Arista EOS, Cisco IOSv, VyOS, Dell OS10, and Nokia SR Linux. We’ll use the quickest (deployment-wise) option: Arista EOS on containerlab.

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Worth Reading: ACI Terraform Scalability

Using Terraform to deploy networking elements with an SDN controller that cannot replace the current state of a tenant with the desired state specified in a text file (because nobody ever wants to do that, right) sounds like a great idea… until you try to do it at scale.

Noël Boulene hit interesting scalability limits when trying to provision VLANs on Cisco ACI with Terraform. If you’re thinking about doing something similar, you REALLY SHOULD read his article.

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Worth Reading: Automation Report From 1958

Are you afraid the network automation will eat your job? You might have to worry if you’re a VLAN-provisioning CLI jockey, but then you’re not alone. Textile workers faces the same challenges in 19th century and automation report from 1958 the clerical workers were facing the same dilemma when the first computers were introduced.

Guess what: unemployment rate has been going up and down in the meantime (US data), but mostly due to various crisis. Automation had little impact.

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ipSpace.net Blog Is in a Public GitHub Repository

I migrated my blog to Hugo two years ago, and never regretted the decision. At the same time I implemented version control with Git, and started using GitHub (and GitLab for a convoluted set of reasons) to host the blog repository.

After hesitating for way too long, I decided to go one step further and made the blog repository public. The next time a blatant error of mine annoys you fork it, fix my blunder(s), and submit a pull request (or write a comment and I’ll fix stuff like I did in the past).

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Simplify and Standardize Mantra Encounters Reality

I’m usually telling networking engineers seriously considering whether to automate their networks to cleanup their design and simplify the network services first.

The only reasonable way forward is to simplify your processes – get rid of all corner cases, all special deals that are probably costing you more than you earned on them, all one-off kludges to support badly-designed applications – and once you get that done, you might realize you don’t need a magic platform anymore, because you can run your simpler network using traditional tools.

While seasoned automation practitioners agree with me, a lot of enterprise engineers face a different reality. Straight from a source that wished to remain anonymous…

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Largest netsim-tools Topology I've Seen So Far

I stumbled upon a blog post by Diptanshu Singh discussing whether IS-IS flooding in highly meshed fabric is as much of a problem as some people would like to make it. I won’t spoil the fun, read his blog post ;)

The really interesting part (for me) was the topology he built with netsim-tools and containerlab: seven leaf-and-spine fabrics connected with WAN links and superspines for a total of 68 instances of Arista cEOS. I hope he automated building the topology file (I’m a bit sorry we haven’t implemented composite topologies yet); after that all he had to do was to execute netlab up to get a fully-configured lab running IS-IS.

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