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Category: design

Do We Need Math in Networking?

I should have known better, but I couldn’t resist being pulled into a Twitter spat around the question “whether networking engineers need to know something about math” a long while ago.

Before going into the details, let’s start with Wikipedia definition: “Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other things” including “specific emphasis on particular areas of applied mathematics, applied science, and types of application”.

So feel free to believe that you don’t need any math or other science (because there’s very little science behind what we do in networking) in your job, in which case you might want to stop reading… but then at least please think twice about your job title.

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Figure Out What Problem You’re Trying to Solve

A long while ago I got into an hilarious Tweetfest (note to self: don’t… not that I would ever listen) starting with:

Which feature and which Cisco router for layer2 extension over internet 100Mbps with 1500 Bytes MTU

The knee-jerk reaction was obvious: OMG, not again. The ugly ghost of BRouters (or is it RBridges or WAN Extenders?) has awoken. The best reply in this category was definitely:

I cannot fathom the conversation where this was a legitimate design option. May the odds forever be in your favor.

A dozen “this is a dumpster fire” tweets later the problem was rephrased as:

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You Don't Need IP Renumbering for Disaster Recovery

This is a common objection I get when trying to persuade network architects they don’t need stretched VLANs (and IP subnets) to implement data center disaster recovery:

Changing IP addresses when activating DR is hard. You’d have to weigh the manageability of stretching L2 and protecting it, with the added complexity of breaking the two sites into separate domains [and subnets]. We all have apps with hardcoded IP’s, outdated IPAM’s, Firewall rules that need updating, etc.

Let’s get one thing straight: when you’re doing disaster recovery there are no live subnets, IP addresses or anything else along those lines. The disaster has struck, and your data center infrastructure is gone.

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Disaster Recover and Failure Domains

One of the responses to my Disaster Recovery Faking blog post focused on failure domains:

What is the difference between supporting L2 stretched between two pods in your DC (which everyone does for seamless vMotion), and having a 30ms link between these two pods because they happen to be in different buildings?

I hope you agree that a single broadcast domain is a single failure domain. If not, let agree to disagree and move on - my life is too short to argue about obvious stuff.

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Stretched VLANs and Failing Firewall Clusters

After publishing the Disaster Recovery Faking, Take Two blog post (you might want to read that one before proceeding) I was severely reprimanded by several people with ties to virtualization vendors for blaming virtualization consultants when it was obvious the firewall clusters stretched across two data centers caused the total data center meltdown.

Let’s chase that elephant out of the room first. When you drive too fast on an icy road and crash into a tree who do you blame?

  • The person who told you it’s perfectly OK to do so;
  • The tire manufacturer who advertised how safe their tires were?
  • The tires for failing to ignore the laws of physics;
  • Yourself for listening to bad advice

For whatever reason some people love to blame the tires ;)

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Disaster Recovery Faking, Take Two

An anonymous (for reasons that will be obvious pretty soon) commenter left a gem on my Disaster Recovery Test Faking blog post that is way too valuable to be left hidden and unannotated.

Here’s what he did:

Once I was tasked to do a DR test before handing over the solution to the customer. To simulate the loss of a data center I suggested to physically shutdown all core switches in the active data center.

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Worth Reading: Anycast DNS in Enterprise Networks

Anycast (advertising the same IP address from multiple servers/locations) has long been used to implement scale-out public DNS services (the whole root DNS system runs on massive anycast), but it’s not as common in enterprise networks.

The blog posts written by Tom Bowles should get you there. He started with the idea and described his implementation using Infoblox DNS.

Want to know even more? I covered numerous load balancing mechanisms including anycast in Data Centers Infrastructure for Networking Engineers webinar.

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Redundant BGP Connectivity on a Single ISP Connection

A while ago Johannes Weber tweeted about an interesting challenge:

We want to advertise our AS and PI space over a single ISP connection. How would a setup look like with 2 Cisco routers, using them for hardware redundancy? Is this possible with only 1 neighboring to the ISP?

Hmm, so you have one cable and two router ports that you want to connect to that cable. There’s something wrong with this picture ;)

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Disaster Recovery Test Faking: Another Use Case for Stretched VLANs

The March 2019 Packet Pushers Virtual Design Clinic had to deal with an interesting question:

Our server team is nervous about full-scale DR testing. So they have asked us to stretch L2 between sites. Is this a good idea?

The design clinic participants were a bit more diplomatic (watch the video) than my TL&DR answer which would be: **** NO!

Let’s step back and try to understand what’s really going on:

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Know Thy Environment Before Redesigning It

A while ago I had an interesting consulting engagement: a multinational organization wanted to migrate off global Carrier Ethernet VPN (with routers at the edges) to MPLS/VPN.

While that sounds like the right thing to do (after all, L3 must be better than L2, right?) in that particular case they wanted to combine the provider VPN with Internet-based IPsec VPN… and doing that in parallel with MPLS/VPN tends to become an interesting exercise in “how convoluted can I make my design before I give up and migrate to BGP”.

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