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Category: design

Using Unequal-Cost Multipath to Cope with Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Failures

Scott submitted an interesting the comment to my Does Unequal-Cost Multipath (UCMP) Make Sense blog post:

How about even Large CLOS networks with the same interface capacity, but accounting for things to fail; fabric cards, links or nodes in disaggregated units. You can either UCMP or drain large parts of your network to get the most out of ECMP.

Before I managed to write a reply (sometimes it takes months while an idea is simmering somewhere in my subconscious) Jeff Tantsura pointed me to an excellent article by Erico Vanini that describes the types of asymmetries you might encounter in a leaf-and-spine fabric: an ideal starting point for this discussion.

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Impact of Azure Subnets on High Availability Designs

Now that you know all about regions and availability zones (AZ) and the ways AWS and Azure implement subnets, let’s get to the crux of the original question Daniel Dib sent me:

As I understand it, subnets in Azure span availability zones. Do you see any drawback to this? You mentioned that it’s difficult to create application swimlanes that way. But does subnet matter if your VMs are in different AZs?

It’s time I explain the concepts of application swimlanes and how they apply to availability zones in public clouds.

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Routing in Stretched VLAN Designs

One of my readers was “blessed” with the stretched VLANs requirement combined with the need for inter-VLAN routing and sub-par equipment from a vendor not exactly known for their data center switching products. Before going on, you might want to read his description of the challenge he’s facing and what I had to say about the idea of building stackable switches across multiple locations.

Of course it’s possible that my reader failed to explain the challenge in enough details to get good advice from the vendor SE, or that he had to deal with a clueless SE, or that he’s using ancient gear or that the stars just weren’t aligned… but I don’t think anyone should ever be painted into the corner he found himself in.

Here’s an overview diagram of what my reader was facing. The core switches in each location work as a single device (virtual chassis), and there’s MLAG between core and edge switches. The early 2000s just called and they were proud of the design (but to be honest, sometimes one has to work with the tools his boss bought, so…).

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MUST READ: Designing a Simple Disaster Recovery Solution

A few weeks ago Adrian Giacometti described a no-stretched-VLANs disaster recovery design he used for one of his customers.

The blog post and related LinkedIn posts generated tons of comments (and objections from the usual suspects), prompting Adrian to write a sequel describing the design requirements he was facing, tradeoffs he made, and interactions between server and networking team needed to make it happen.

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Rant: Don't Ever Compare Enterprise IT Shenanigans with Apollo 13

Here’s a recent tweet by my friend Joe Onisick that triggered this blog post:

My favorite people are the ones that start with “how could we make that work?” Before jumping into all of their preconceived bs on why it won’t work.

I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. The number of people who would invent all sorts of excuses just to avoid turning on their brains and keep to their cozy old methods is staggering. Unfortunately, someone immediately had the urge to switch into what I understood to be a heroic MacGyver mode (or maybe it was just my lack of caffeine, in which case I apologize for the misquote… but you might still like the rest of the rant):

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State Consistency in Distributed SDN Controller Clusters

Why Can't We Have Good Things Like Partition-Resilient SDN Controllers

Every now and then I get a question along the lines of “why can’t we have a distributed SDN controller (because resiliency) that would survive network partitioning?” This time, it’s not the incompetency of solution architects or programmers, but the fundamental limitations of what can be done when you want to have consistent state across a distributed system.

TL&DR: If your first thought was CAP Theorem you’re absolutely right. You can probably stop reading right now. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, maybe it’s time you get fluent in distributed systems concepts after you’re finished with this blog post and all the reference material linked in it. Don’t know where to start? I put together a list of resources I found useful.

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MUST READ: Fast and Simple Disaster Recovery Solution

More than a year ago I was enjoying a cool beer with my friend Nicola Modena who started explaining how he solved the “you don’t need IP address renumbering for disaster recovery” conundrum with production and standby VRFs. All it takes to flip the two is a few changes in import/export route targets.

I asked Nicola to write about his design, but he’s too busy doing useful stuff. Fortunately he’s not the only one using common sense approach to disaster recovery designs (as opposed to flat earth vendor marketectures). Adrian Giacometti used a very similar design with one of his customers and documented it in a blog post.

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Fifty Shades of High Availability

A while ago we had an interesting exchange of ideas around inserting high-availability network appliance into a public cloud environment (TL&DR: it was really hard until AWS introduced Gateway Load Balancing), and someone quickly pointed out we’re solving the wrong challenge because…

Azure Firewall […] is a fully stateful firewall-as-a-service with built-in high-availability.

Somehow he wasn’t too happy when I pointed out that there’s more to high availability than vendor marketing ;)

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Do We Need LFA or FRR for Fast Failover in ECMP Designs?

One of my readers sent me a question along these lines:

Imagine you have a router with four equal-cost paths to prefix X, two toward upstream-1 and two toward upstream-2. Now let’s suppose that one of those links goes down and you want to have link protection. Do I really need Loop-Free Alternate (LFA) or MPLS Fast Reroute (FRR) to get fast (= immediate) failover or could I rely on multiple equal-cost paths to get the job done? I’m getting different answers from different vendors…

Please note that we’re talking about a very specific question of whether in scenarios with equal-cost layer-3 paths the hardware forwarding data structures get adjusted automatically on link failure (without CPU reprogramming them), and whether LFA needs to be configured to make the adjustment happen.

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Video: Simplify Device Configurations with Cumulus Linux

The designers of Cumulus Linux CLI were always focused on simplifying network device configurations. One of the first features along these lines was BGP across unnumbered interfaces, then they introduced simplified EVPN configurations, and recently auto-MLAG and auto-BGP.

You can watch a short description of these features by Dinesh Dutt and Pete Lumbis in Simplify Network Configuration with Cumulus Linux and Smart Datacenter Defaults videos (part of Cumulus Linux section of Data Center Fabrics webinar).

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Fixing Firewall Ruleset Problem For Good

Before we start: if you’re new to my blog (or stumbled upon this blog post by incident) you might want to read the Considerations for Host-Based Firewalls for a brief overview of the challenge, and my explanation why flow-tracking tools cannot be used to auto-generate firewall policies.

As expected, the “you cannot do it” post on LinkedIn generated numerous comments, ranging from good ideas to borderline ridiculous attempts to fix a problem that has been proven to be unfixable (see also: perpetual motion).

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Must Watch: Fault Tolerance through Optimal Workload Placement

While I keep telling you that Google-sized solutions aren’t necessarily the best fit for your environment, some of the hyperscaler presentations contain nuggets that apply to any environment no matter how small it is.

One of those must-watch presentations is Fault Tolerance through Optimal Workload Placement together with a wonderful TL&DR summary by the one-and-only Todd Hoff of the High Scalability fame.

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Are Business Needs Just Excuses for Vendor Shenanigans?

Every now and then I call someone’s baby ugly (or maybe it was their third cousin’s baby and they nonetheless feel offended). In such cases a common resort is to cite business or market needs to prove how ignorant and clueless I am. Here’s a sample LinkedIn comment talking about my ignorance about the need for smart NICs:

The rise of custom silicon by Presando [sic], Mellanox, Amazon, Intel and others confirms there is a real market need.

Now let’s get something straight: while there are good reasons to use tons of different things that might look inappropriate, irrelevant or plain stupid to an outsider, I don’t believe in real market need argument being used to justify anything without supporting technical facts (tell me why you need that stuff and prove to me that using it is the best way of solving a problem).

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Is Cisco ACI Too Different?

A friend of mine involved in multiple Cisco ACI installations sent me this comment on their tenant connectivity model:

I’m a bit allergic to ACI. The abstraction is mis-aligned with familiar configurations, in particular contracts being independent of and over-riding routing, tenants, etc. You can really make a mess with that, and I’ve seen some! One needs to impose some structure, naming conventions…, and most people don’t seem to get that done.

As I noticed in the NSX-or-ACI webinar, it’s interesting how NSX decided to stay with the familiar VLAN/routing/filtering paradigm (more details), whereas the designers of Cisco ACI decided to go down a totally different path.

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