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Category: data center

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 ipSpace.net 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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Comparing EVPN with Flood-and-Learn Fabrics

One of ipSpace.net subscribers sent me this question after watching the EVPN Technical Deep Dive webinar:

Do you have a writeup that compares and contrasts the hardware resource utilization when one uses flood-and-learn or BGP EVPN in a leaf-and-spine network?

I don’t… so let’s fix that omission. In this blog post we’ll focus on pure layer-2 forwarding (aka bridging), a follow-up blog post will describe the implications of adding EVPN IP functionality.

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Questions about BGP in the Data Center (with a Whiff of SRv6)

Henk Smit left numerous questions in a comment referring to the Rethinking BGP in the Data Center presentation by Russ White:

In Russ White’s presentation, he listed a few requirements to compare BGP, IS-IS and OSPF. Prefix distribution, filtering, TE, tagging, vendor-support, autoconfig and topology visibility. The one thing I was missing was: scalability.

I noticed the same thing. We kept hearing how BGP scales better than link-state protocols (no doubt about that) and how you couldn’t possibly build a large data center fabric with a link-state protocol… and yet this aspect wasn’t even mentioned.

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Worth Reading: Azure Datacenter Switch Failures

Microsoft engineers published an analysis of switch failures in 130 Azure regions (review of the article, The Next Platform summary):

  • A data center switch has a 2% chance of failing in 3 months (= less than 10% per year);
  • ~60% of the failures are caused by hardware faults or power failures, another 17% are software bugs;
  • 50% of failures lasted less than 6 minutes (obviously crashes or power glitches followed by a reboot).
  • Switches running SONiC had lower failure rate than switches running vendor NOS on the same hardware. Looks like bloatware results in more bugs, and taking months to fix bugs results in more crashes. Who would have thought…
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Worth Reading: Running BGP in Large-Scale Data Centers

Here’s one of the major differences between Facebook and Google: one of them publishes research papers with helpful and actionable information, the other uses publications as recruitment drive full of we’re so awesome but you have to trust us – we’re not sharing the crucial details.

Recent data point: Facebook published an interesting paper describing their data center BGP design. Absolutely worth reading.

Just in case you haven’t realized: Petr Lapukhov of the RFC 7938 fame moved from Microsoft to Facebook a few years ago. Coincidence? I think not.

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Local TCP Anycast Is Really Hard

Pete Lumbis and Network Ninja mentioned an interesting Unequal-Cost Multipathing (UCMP) data center use case in their comments to my UCMP-related blog posts: anycast servers.

Here’s a typical scenario they mentioned: a bunch of servers, randomly connected to multiple leaf switches, is offering a service on the same IP address (that’s where anycast comes from).

Typical Data Center Anycast Deployment

Typical Data Center Anycast Deployment

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Mythbusting: NFV Data Center Fabric Buffering Requirements

Every now and then I stumble upon an article or a comment explaining how Network Function Virtualization (NFV) introduces new data center fabric buffering requirements. Here’s a recent example:

For Telco/carrier Cloud environments, where NFVs (which are much slower than hardware SGW) get used a lot, latency is higher with a lot of jitter due to the nature of software and the varying link speeds, so DC-level near-zero buffer is not applicable.

It seems to me we’re dealing with another myth. Starting with the basics:

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Packet Bursts in Data Center Fabrics

When I wrote about the (non)impact of switching latency, I was (also) thinking about packet bursts jamming core data center fabric links when I mentioned the elephants in the room… but when I started writing about them, I realized they might be yet another red herring (together with the supposed need for large buffers in data center switches).

Here’s how it looks like from my ignorant perspective when considering a simple leaf-and-spine network like the one in the following diagram. Please feel free to set me straight, I honestly can’t figure out where I went astray.

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Does Small Packet Forwarding Performance Matter in Data Center Switches?

TL&DR: No.

Here’s another never-ending vi-versus-emacs-type discussion: merchant silicon like Broadcom Trident cannot forward small (64-byte) packets at line rate. Does that matter, or is it yet another stimulating academic talking point and/or red herring used by vendor marketing teams to justify their high prices?

Here’s what I wrote about that topic a few weeks ago:

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Rant: Cisco ACI Complexity

A while ago Antti Leimio wrote a long twitter thread describing his frustrations with Cisco ACI object model. I asked him for permission to repost the whole thread as those things tend to get lost, and he graciously allowed me to do it, so here we go.


I took a 5 days Cisco DCACI course. This is all new to me. I’m confused. Who is ACI for? Capabilities and completeness of features is fantastic but how to manage this complex system?

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Chasing CRC Errors in a Data Center Fabric

One of my readers encountered an interesting problem when upgrading a data center fabric to 100 Gbps leaf-to-spine links:

  • They installed new fiber cables and SFPs;
  • Everything looked great… until someone started complaining about application performance problems.
  • Nothing else has changed, so the culprit must have been the network upgrade.
  • A closer look at monitoring data revealed CRC errors on every leaf switch. Obviously something was badly wrong with the whole batch of SFPs.

Fortunately my reader took a closer look at the data before they requested a wholesale replacement… and spotted an interesting pattern:

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