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Category: data center

Video: Packet Buffers in Data Center ASICs

A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to have Pete Lumbis talking about ASICs for Networking Engineers as part of the Data Center Fabric Architectures webinar.

One of the topics he couldn’t possible skip was the question of how many packet buffers one needs in a data center switch.

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Is It Time to Replace TCP in Data Centers?

One of my readers asked for my opinion about the provocative “It’s Time to Replace TCP in the Datacenter” article by prof. John Ousterhout. I started reading it, found too many things that didn’t make sense, and decided to ignore it as another attempt of a proverbial physicist solving hard problems in someone else’s field.

However, pointers to that article kept popping up, and I eventually realized it was a position paper in a long-term process that included conference talks, interviews and keynote speeches, so I decided to take another look at the technical details.

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EVPN/VXLAN or Bridged Data Center Fabric?

An attendee in the Building Next-Generation Data Center online course sent me an interesting dilemma:

Some customers don’t like EVPN because of complexity (it is required knowledge BGP, symmetric/asymmetric IRB, ARP suppression, VRF, RT/RD, etc). They agree, that EVPN gives more stability and broadcast traffic optimization, but still, it will not save DC from broadcast storms, because protections methods are the same for both solutions (minimize L2 segments, storm-control).

We’ll deal with the unnecessary EVPN-induced complexity some other time, today let’s start with a few intro-level details.

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VXLAN-to-VXLAN Bridging in DCI Environments

Almost exactly a decade ago I wrote that VXLAN isn’t a data center interconnect technology. That’s still true, but you can make it a bit better with EVPN – at the very minimum you’ll get an ARP proxy and anycast gateway. Even this combo does not address the other requirements I listed a decade ago, but maybe I’m too demanding and good enough works well enough.

However, there is one other bit that was missing from most VXLAN implementations: LAN-to-WAN VXLAN-to-VXLAN bridging. Sounds weird? Supposedly a picture is worth a thousand words, so here we go.

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Select the Best Switching ASIC For the Job

Last week I described some of the data center switching ASIC design tradeoffs and the ASIC families Broadcom created to fit somewhere in that multi-dimensional space.

Next step: how could you design your data center fabric to make the most out of them? To keep things simple, we’ll build a typical leaf-and-spine fabric with a WAN edge layer (sometimes called border leaf switches).

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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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What Happened to FabricPath and Its Friends?

Continuing the what happened to old technologies saga, here’s another question by Enrique Vallejo:

Are FabricPath, TRILL or SPB still alive, or has everyone moved to VXLAN? Are they worth studying?

TL&DR: Barely. Yes. No.

Layer-2 Fabric craziness exploded in 2010 with vendors playing the usual misinformation games that eventually resulted in totally fragmented market full of partial- or proprietary solutions. At one point in time, some HP data center switches supported only TRILL, and other data center switches from the same company supported only SPB.

Now for individual technologies:

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ICMP Redirects Considered Harmful

One of my readers sent me an intriguing challenge based on the following design:

  • He has a data center with two core switches (C1 and C2) and two Cisco Nexus edge switches (E1 and E2).
  • He’s using static default routing from core to edge switches with HSRP on the edge switches.
  • E1 is the active HSRP gateway connected to the primary WAN link.

The following picture shows the simplified network diagram:

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Running BGP between Virtual Machines and Data Center Fabric

Got this question from one of my readers:

When adopting the BGP on the VM model (say, a Kubernetes worker node on top of vSphere or KVM or Openstack), how do you deal with VM migration to another host (same data center, of course) for maintenance purposes? Do you keep peering with the old ToR even after the migration, or do you use some BGP trickery to allow the VM to peer with whatever ToR it’s closest to?

Short answer: you don’t.

Kubernetes was designed in a way that made worker nodes expendable. The Kubernetes cluster (and all properly designed applications) should recover automatically after a worker node restart. From the purely academic perspective, there’s no reason to migrate VMs running Kubernetes.

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Building a Small Data Center Fabric with Four Switches

One of my subscribers has to build a small data center fabric that’s just a tad too big for two switch design.

For my datacenter I would need two 48 ports 10GBASE-T switches and two 48 port 10/25G fibber switches. So I was watching the Small Fabrics and Lower-Speed Interfaces part of Physical Fabric Design to make up my mind. There you talk about the possibility to do a leaf and spine with 4 switches and connect servers to the spine.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s the diagram of what I had in mind:

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Comparing Forwarding Performance of Data Center Switches

One of my subscribers is trying to decide whether to buy an -EX or an -FX version of a Cisco Nexus data center switch:

I was comparing Cisco Nexus 93180YC-FX and Nexus 93180YC-EX. They have the same port distribution (48x 10/25G + 6x40/100G), 3.6 Tbps switching capacity, but the -FX version has just 1200 Mpps forwarding rate while EX version goes up to 2600 Mpps. What could be the reason for the difference in forwarding performance?

Both switches are single-ASIC switches. They have the same total switching bandwidth, thus it must take longer for the FX switch to forward a packet, resulting in reduced packet-per-seconds figure. It looks like the ASIC in the -FX switch is configured in more complex way: more functionality results in more complexity which results in either reduced performance or higher cost.

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Stretched VLANs: What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

One of subscribers sent me this interesting question:

I am the network administrator of a small data center network that spans 2 buildings. The main building has a pair of L2/L3 10G core switches. The second building has a stack of access switches connected to the main building with 10G uplinks. This secondary datacenter has got some ESX hosts and NAS for remote backup and some VM for development and testing, but all the Internet connection, firewall and server are in the main building.

There is no routing in the secondary building and most of the VLANs are stretched. Do you think I must change that (bringing routing to the secondary datacenter), or keep it simple like it is now?

As always, it depends, this time on what problem are you trying to solve?

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