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Category: switching

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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Response: Is Switching Latency Relevant?

Minh Ha left another extensive comment on my Is Switching Latency Relevant blog post. As is usual the case, it’s well worth reading, so I’m making sure it doesn’t stay in the small print (this time interspersed with a few comments of mine in gray boxes)

I found Cisco apparently manages to scale port-to-port latency down to 250ns for L3 switching, which is astonishing, and way less (sub 100ns) for L1 and L2.

I don’t know where FPGA fits into this ultra low-latency picture, because FPGA, compared to ASIC, is bigger, and a few times slower, due to the use of Lookup Table in place of gate arrays, and programmable interconnects.

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Fundamentals: Is Switching Latency Relevant?

One of my readers wondered whether it makes sense to buy low-latency switches from Cisco or Juniper instead of switches based on merchant silicon like Trident-3 or Jericho (regardless of whether they are running NX-OS, Junos, EOS, or Linux).

As always, the answer is it depends, but before getting into the details, let’s revisit what latency really is. We’ll start with a simple two-node network.

The simplest possible network

The simplest possible network

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Implementing Layer-2 Networks in a Public Cloud

A few weeks ago I got an excited tweet from someone working at Oracle Cloud Infrastructure: they launched full-blown layer-2 virtual networks in their public cloud to support customers migrating existing enterprise spaghetti mess into the cloud.

Let’s skip the usual does everyone using the applications now have to pay for Oracle licenses and I wonder what the lock in might be when I migrate my workloads into an Oracle cloud jokes and focus on the technical aspects of what they claim they implemented. Here’s my immediate reaction (limited to the usual 280 characters, because that’s the absolute upper limit of consumable content these days):

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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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Repost: On the Importance of Line-Rate Switching of Small Packets

I made a flippant remark in a blog comment

While it’s academically stimulating to think about forwarding small packets (and applicable to large-scale VoIP networks), most environments don’t have to deal with those. Looks like it’s such a non-issue that I couldn’t find recent data; in the good old days ~50% of the packets were 1500 byte long.

… and Minh Ha (by now a regular contributor to my blog) quickly set me straight with a lengthy comment that’s too good to be hidden somewhere at the bottom of a page. Here it is (slightly edited). Also, you might want to read other comments to the original blog post for context.

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Video: Finding Paths Across the Network

Regardless of the technology used to get packets across the network, someone has to know how to get from sender to receiver(s), and as always you have multiple options:

  • Almighty controller
  • On-demand dynamic path discovery (example: probing)
  • Participation in a routing protocol

For more details, watch Finding Paths Across the Network video.

The video is part of How Networks Really Work webinar and available with Free Subscription.
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Rant: Broadcom and Network Operating System Vendors

Minh Ha left the following rant as a comment on my 5-year-old What Are The Problems with Broadcom Tomahawk? blog post. It’s too good to be left gathering dust there. Counterarguments and other perspectives are highly welcome.

So basically a lot of vendors these days are just glorified Broadcom resellers :p. It’s funny how some of them try to up themselves by saying they differentiate their offerings with their Network OS.

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Making LLDP Work with Linux Bridge

Last week I described how I configured PVLAN on a Linux bridge. After checking the desired partial connectivity with ios_ping I wanted to verify it with LLDP neighbors. Ansible ios_facts module collects LLDP neighbor information, and it should be really easy using those facts to check whether port isolation works as expected.

Ansible playbook displaying LLDP neighbors on selected interface
- name: Display LLDP neighbors on selected interface
  hosts: all
  gather_facts: true
    target_interface: GigabitEthernet0/1
  - name: Display neighbors gathered with ios_facts
      var: ansible_net_neighbors[target_interface]

Alas, none of the routers saw any neighbors on the target interface.

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Repost: Drawbacks and Pitfalls of Cut-Through Switching

Minh Ha left a great comment describing additional pitfalls of cut-through switching on my Chasing CRC Errors blog post. Here it is (lightly edited).

Ivan, I don’t know about you, but I think cut-through and deep buffer are nothing but scams, and it’s subtle problems like this [fabric-wide crc errors] that open one’s eyes to the difference between reality and academy. Cut-through switching might improve nominal device latency a little bit compared to store-and-forward (SAF), but when one puts it into the bigger end-to-end context, it’s mostly useless.

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Implement Private VLAN Functionality with Linux Bridge and Libvirt

I wanted to test routing protocol behavior (IS-IS in particular) on partially meshed multi-access layer-2 networks like private VLANs or Carrier Ethernet E-Tree service. I recently spent plenty of time creating a Vagrant/libvirt lab environment on my Intel NUC running Ubuntu 20.04, and I wanted to use that environment in my tests.

Challenge-of-the-day: How do you implement private VLAN functionality with Vagrant using libvirt plugin?

There might be interesting KVM/libvirt options I’ve missed, but so far I figured two ways of connecting Vagrant-controlled virtual machines in libvirt environment:

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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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Video: Getting a Packet Across a Network

After (hopefully) agreeing on what routing, bridging, and switching are, let’s focus on the first important topic in this area: how do we get a packet across the network? Yet again, there are three fundamentally different technologies:

  • Source node knows the full path (source routing)
  • Source node opened a path (virtual circuit) to the destination node and uses that path to send traffic
  • The network performs hop-by-hop destination-address-based packet forwarding.

More details in the Getting Packets Across the Network video.

The video is part of How Networks Really Work webinar and available with Free Subscription.
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Building Secure Layer-2 Data Center Fabric with Cisco Nexus Switches

One of my readers is designing a layer-2-only data center fabric (no SVI interfaces on switches) with stringent security requirements using Cisco Nexus switches, and he wondered whether a host connected to such a fabric could attack a switch, and whether it would be possible to reach the management network in that way.

Do you think it’s possible to reach the MANAGEMENT PLANE from the DATA PLANE? Is it valid to think that there is a potential attack vector that someone can compromise to source traffic from the front of the device (ASIC) through the PCI bus across the CPU to the across the PCI bus to the Platform Controller Hub through the I/O card to spew out the Management Port onto that out-of-band network?

My initial answer was “of course there’s always a conduit from the switching ASIC to the CPU, how would you handle STP/CDP/LLDP otherwise”. I also asked Lukas Krattiger for more details; here’s what he sent me:

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