OTV AEDs Are Like Highlanders

While prepping for CCIE Data Center and playing around with a lab environment, I ran into a problem I’d like to share.

I was setting up a basic OTV setup with three VDCs running OTV, connecting to a core VDC running the multicast core (which is a lot easier than it sounds). I’m running it in a lab environment we have at Firefly, but I’m not going by our normal lab guide, instead making it up as I go along in order to save some time, and make sure I can stand up OTV without a lab guide.

Each VDC will set up an adjacency with the other two, with the core VDC providing unicast and multicast connectivity.  That part was pretty easy to setup (even the multicast part, which had previously freaked me the shit out). Each VDC would be its own site, so no redundant AEDs.

On each OTV VDC, I setup the following as per my pre-OTV checklist:

  • Bi-directional IPv4 unicast connectivity to each join interface (I used a single OSPF area)
  • MTU of 9216 end-to-end (easy since OTV requires M line cards, and it’s just an MTU command on the interface)
  • An OTV site VLAN which requires:
    • That the VLAN is configured on the VDC
    • That the VLAN is active on a physical port that is up
  • Multicast configuration
    • IP pim sparse-mode configuration on every interface, end-to-end
    • IP igmp version 3 on every interface end-to-end
    • Rendezvous point (RP) configured on the loopback address of the core VDC (I used the bidir tag)

So I got all that configured and then configured the OTV setup. Very basic:

feature otv

otv site-vlan 10

interface Overlay1
  otv join-interface Ethernet1/2
  otv control-group
  otv data-group
  otv extend-vlan 100
  no shutdown
otv site-identifier 0000.0000.0002

ip pim rp-address group-list
ip pim ssm range

The only difference between the three OTV VDC configurations was the site-identifier and the join interface. Everything else was identical, pretty easy configuration. But… it didn’t work. Shit. Time for some show commands:

N7K-11-vdc-2# show otv adjacency
Overlay Adjacency database
Overlay-Interface Overlay1 :
Hostname System-ID Dest Addr Up Time State
VDC-3 18ef.63e9.5d43 01:36:52 UP
vdc-4 18ef.63e9.5d44 01:41:57 UP

OK, so the adjacencies are built. I’ve at least got IP4 unicast and multicast going on. How about “show otv”?

N7K-11-vdc-2# show otv

OTV Overlay Information
Site Identifier 0000.0000.0002

Overlay interface Overlay1

 VPN name : Overlay1
 VPN state : UP
 Extended vlans : 100 (Total:1)
 Control group :
 Data group range(s) :
 Join interface(s) : Eth1/2 (
 Site vlan : 11 (up)
 AED-Capable : No (Site-ID mismatch)
 Capability : Multicast-Reachable

Site-ID mismatch? What the shit? They’re supposed to mismatch. I try another command:

N7K-11-vdc-2# show otv site

Dual Adjacency State Description
 Full - Both site and overlay adjacency up
 Partial - Either site/overlay adjacency down
 Down - Both adjacencies are down (Neighbor is down/unreachable)
 (!) - Site-ID mismatch detected

Local Edge Device Information:
 Hostname vdc-2
 System-ID 18ef.63e9.5d42
 Site-Identifier 0000.0000.0002
 Site-VLAN 11 State is Up

Site Information for Overlay1:

Local device is not AED-Capable (Site-ID mismatch)
Neighbor Edge Devices in Site: 1

Hostname System-ID Adjacency- Adjacency- AED-

 State Uptime Capable

VDC-3 18ef.63e9.5d43 Partial (!) 00:17:39 Yes

Now this show command confused me for a while. I was trying to figure out the Site-ID mismatch. I was also wondering why I could see VDC-3 but couldn’t see VDC-4. Then it dawned on me (after am embarrassing amount of time) I’m not supposed to. I’m not supposed to see VDC-3, either. The “show site” command is only looking at the local area. For my configuration, I shouldn’t see any other VDCs with “show otv site”.

This means that there’s some type of Layer 2 connectivity between the different sites. VDC-3 and VDC-4 both somehow see each other as Layer 2 adjacent. That shouldn’t happen if they’re supposedly on remote sites. This is a lab environment, so there’s some sort of Layer 2 connectivity for the Site-VLAN that I need to kill.

OTV edge devices are like highlanders, if there’s Layer 2 adjacency, they sense each other.


“I could sense you by your VLAN”

It probably happened on the interface that I assigned the site-VLAN to as an access port. A VLAN will not show “active” unless you have an active physical link (interface VLANs don’t count).

So I went through and re-configured the site VLAN. Instead of VLAN 10 (which was probably active on the other ends of those interfaces somehow) I created new VLANs, and used a unique VLAN for each VDC. The site-VLANs do not need to be identical between sites. I put the VLAN on a physical link that was up, and voila.

In the real world, you probably won’t run into this. However, it’s possible if there are other Layer 2 interconnects going on in your data center (perhaps dark fiber) or you’re transitioning from one DCI to another, you may hit this.

2013 Was A Good Year

Happy new year everyone. I think 2014 will be quite an interesting year for the industry. 2013 certainly was for me, at least professionally and personally. I tried twice to get my CCIE DC, didn’t pass. I did, however, obtain my CCNP Data Center. I also learn a whole bunch of new skills. Here’s a quick clip show (and yes, there are shots of me skydiving in a Star Trek TNG Uniform).

CCIE DC Attempt #1: Did Not Pass

Earlier this month, I drove my rental car up to Cisco’s infamous 150 Tasman Drive after being stuck on the 101 for about an hour. I checked in, sat down, and dug into my very first CCIE lab attempt. A bit over 8 hours later, I knew I didn’t pass, but I got a good feel for what the lab is like.

My preparation for the exam had been very unbalanced, working extensively with some parts of the blueprint, while other aspects of the blueprint I hadn’t really touched in over a year. So I was not surprised at all to see the “FAIL” notice when I got my score.

The good news is that I think with the right preparation on my weak parts, I can pass on the next attempt (which I haven’t yet scheduled, but will soon).

The following animated GIF is what it’s like to do parts of a CCIE lab exam that you haven’t prepared for.





How It Feels Studying for my CCIE DC Lab


So, I’m a Skydiver Now

As some of you may know, I’ve been learning how to skydive. And this past Saturday (June 7th, 2013) I finally got my “A-license”, which is the first level of skydiving. The very next day, I did a “big way” camp, which is where you learn how to do large formation skydives. It was a lot of very valuable experience, and a great opportunity for a n00b like me.

Big Way Camp Jump for the Rose from Tony Bourke on Vimeo.

I love computing, networking, and teaching technologies. I love learning new technologies. I do it at work, and I play with it at home.

And while I do enjoy it, I have other things that I do that are non-computing. I think it’s important to have something else in your life besides your work, even if (and possibly especially if) you’re passionate about your work. It will help you with your work, and help you keep sane. It will help burn-out. The people I know of who are at the top of their game in the industry have very developed non-work lives.

It’s easy in IT to get dragged further and further in. More meetings, more projects, more deadlines. Boundary setting is a challenge, but I think it’s important to develop that skill of keeping the boundaries where you’re comfortable with them.


Always Be Learning.

Ethernet Congestion: Drop It or Pause It

Congestion happens. You try to put a 10 pound (soy-based vegan) ham in a 5 pound bag, it just ain’t gonna work. And in the topsy-turvey world of data center switches, what do we do to mitigate congestion? Most of the time, the answer can be found in the wisdom of Snoop Dogg/Lion.


Of course, when things are fine, the world of Ethernet is live and let live.


We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

But when push comes to shove, frames get dropped. Either the buffer fills up and tail drop occurs, or QoS is configured and something like WRED (Weight Random Early Detection) kicks in to proactively drop frames before taildrop can occur (mostly to keep TCP’s behavior from causing spiky behavior).


The Bit Grim Reaper is way better than leaky buckets

Most congestion remediation methods involve one or more types of dropping frames. The various protocols running on top of Ethernet such as IP, TCP/UDP, as well as higher level protocols, were written with this lossfull nature in mind. Protocols like TCP have retransmission and flow control, and higher level protocols that employ UDP (such as voice) have other ways of dealing with the plumbing gets stopped-up. But dropping it like it’s hot isn’t the only way to handle congestion in Ethernet:


Please Hammer, Don’t PAUSE ‘Em

Ethernet has the ability to employ flow control on physical interfaces, so that when congestion is about to occur, the receiving port can signal to the sending port to stop sending for a period of time. This is referred to simply as 802.3x Ethernet flow control, or as I like to call it, old-timey flow control, as it’s been in Ethernet since about 1997. When a receive buffer is close to being full, the receiving side will send a PAUSE frame to the sending side.


Too legit to drop

A wide variety of Ethernet devices support old-timey flow control, everything from data center switches to the USB dongle for my MacBook Air.

Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 6.04.06 PM

One of the drawbacks of old-timey flow control is that it pauses all traffic, regardless of any QoS considerations. This creates a condition referred to as HoL (Head of Line) blocking, and can cause higher priority (and latency sensitive) traffic to get delayed on account of lower priority traffic. To address this, a new type of flow control was created called 802.1Qbb PFC (Priority Flow Control).

PFC allows a receiving port send PAUSE frames that only affect specific CoS lanes (0 through 7). Part of the 802.1Q standard is a 3-bit field that represents the Class of Service, giving us a total of 8 classes of service, though two are traditionally reserved for control plane traffic so we have six to play with (which, by the way, is a lot simpler than the 6-bit DSCP field in IP). Utilizing PFC, some CoS values can be made lossless, while others are lossfull.

Why would you want to pause traffic instead of drop traffic when congestion occurs?

Much of the IP traffic that traverses our data centers is OK with a bit of loss. It’s expected. Any protocol will have its performance degraded if packet loss is severe, but most traffic can take a bit of loss. And it’s not like pausing traffic will magically make congestion go away.

But there is some traffic that can benefit from losslessness, and and that just flat out requires it. FCoE (Fibre Channel of Ethernet), a favorite topic of mine, requires losslessness to operate. Fibre Channel is inherently a lossless protocol (by use of B2B or Buffer to Buffer credits), since the primary payload for a FC frame is SCSI. SCSI does not handle loss very well, so FC was engineered to be lossless. As such, priority flow control is one of the (several) requirements for a switch to be able to forward FCoE frames.

iSCSI is also a protocol that can benefit from pause congestion handling rather than dropping. Instead of encapsulating SCSI into FC frames, iSCSI encapsulates SCSI into TCP segments. This means that if a TCP segment is lost, it will be retransmitted. So at first glance it would seem that iSCSI can handle loss fine.

From a performance perspective, TCP suffers mightily when a segment is lost because of TCP congestion management techniques. When a segment is lost, TCP backs off on its transmission rate (specifically the number of segments in flight without acknowledgement), and then ramps back up again. By making the iSCSI traffic lossless, packets will be slowed down during congestions but the TCP congestion algorithm wouldn’t be used. As a result, many iSCSI vendors recommend turning on old-timey flow control to keep packet loss to a minimum.

However, many switches today can’t actually do full losslessness. Take the venerable Catalyst 6500. It’s a switch that would be very common in data centers, and it is a frame murdering machine.

The problem is that while the Catalyst 6500 supports old-timey flow control (it doesn’t support PFC) on physical ports, there’s no mechanism that I’m aware of to prevent buffer overruns from one port to another inside the switch. Take the example of two ingress Gigabit Ethernet ports sending traffic to a single egress Gigabit Ethernet port. Both ingress ports are running at line rate. There’s no signaling (at least that I’m aware of, could be wrong) that would prevent the egress ports from overwhelming the transmit buffer of the ingress port.


Many frames enter, not all leave

This is like flying to Hawaii and not reserving a hotel room before you get on the plane. You could land and have no place to stay. Because there’s no way to ensure losslessness on a Catalyst 6500 (or many other types of switches from various vendors), the Catalyst 6500 is like Thunderdome. Many frames enter, not all leave.


Catalyst 6500 shown with a Sup2T

The new generation of DCB (Data Center Bridging) switches, however, use a concept known as VoQ (Virtual Output Queues). With VoQs, the ingress port will not send a frame to the egress port unless there’s room. If there isn’t room, the frame will stay in the ingress buffer until there’s room.If the ingress buffer is full, it can have signaled the sending port it’s connected to to PAUSE (either old-timey pause or PFC).

This is a technique that’s been in used in Fibre Channel switches from both Brocade and Cisco (as well as others) for a while now, and is now making its way into DCB Ethernet switches from various vendors. Cisco’s Nexus line, for example, make use of VoQs, and so do Brocade’s VCS switches. Some type of lossless ability between internal ports is required in order to be a DCB switch, since FCoE requires losslessness.

DCB switches require lossless backplanes/internal fabrics, support for PFC, ETS (Enhanced Transmission Selection, a way to reserve bandwidth on various CoS lanes), and DCBx (a way to communicate these capabilities to adjacent switches). This makes them capable of a lot of cool stuff that non-DCB switches can’t do, such as losslessness.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is when Layer 3 comes into play. My guess is that even in a DCB switch that can do Layer 3, losslessness can’t be extended beyond a Layer 2 boundary. That’s not an issue with FCoE, since it’s only Layer 2, but iSCSI can be routed.

Goals for 2013

As the year closes, and it turns out the world didn’t end, it’s time to start planning for 2013 (especially since I don’t know when the next doomsday is supposed to be).

My 2012 in review:

  • Obtained CCNA Data Center (possibly the first outside of Cisco, literally days after it was available)
  • Obtained CCNP Data Center (probably not the first, I know I tied with one guy at least)
  • Didn’t pass the CCIE Data Center written (beta or actual)
  • Ran a marathon in Australia (continent number 4 for marathons, shooting for all 7)
  • Saw a total solar eclipse (part of the previous trip)
  • Australia is the 30th country that I’ve visited (and I’m not counting airport layovers, such as Egypt and Japan)
  • Did more aerobatic pilot training


Fruity drinks with Kurt Bales in Australia in 2012

May career goals for 2013:

  • Pass CCIE Data Center written in Janurary
  • Obtain CCIE Data Center in 2013
  • Obtain VCAP-DCA
  • ABL (Always Be Learning)


Flying a plane upside down in 2012

I think career wise, getting CCIE DC and VCAP-DCA are plenty enough for a 12-month span, as both are very tall orders. And though ambitious, with the current support system I have and resources publicly (such as vBrownbag) and that I have through Firefly, they’re both doable for 2013. I’ve got some thoughts on that particular combination of certifications which I’ll go into in another post.

There are a couple of technologies that look exciting for 2013 that I’d like to take a (closer) look at. Openstack for one, and how it relates to data center as I have only a vague conceptual understanding of it. VXLAN, STT in VMware, NVGRE in Windows 2012 Server, and the overlay technologies in general. Checking out the other hypervisor vendors, especially (and the condescending Unix administrator in me is going to throw up a bit in my mouth when I say this) Hyper-V 3.

So those are my goals for 2013. Yours?

CCIE Data Center Beta Written Results Are In! (351-080)

And Cisco probably couldn’t be happier that the results are finally in. It’s been more than 3 months since the beta closed, and after a few promises of “soon”, we finally got our results today. Over at the Cisco learning community message boards for CCIE DC, there was a virtual riot going on.

Guys? I think we’d better get those results posted…

Once I got word they were live on PearsonVUE, I logged in and…. I failed.

Smug Cisco Guy: Way to go, dumbass.

At least we got our results.

To find out your status, go to PearsonVUE, log into your account, and check your history. It’ll show the pass or fail. Beyond pass/fail, we have to await the score report to find our what our weak areas were. My guess I was really weak on the 7K/5K stuff. I know I got all the ACE-related questions right, and most of the storage and UCS seemed pretty evident to me. I’ll have to wait and see, of course. I’ve scheduled a re-take for October 5th, so I’ve got some books to hit. Queue the montage…

A Different Kind of Loop

I’m not all nerd and memes, sometimes I do stuff like this. Starting not long after I got my pilot’s license, I started doing occasional aerobatics lessons. In this clip, I’m the one flying under the watchful eye of the instructor behind me.


Po-tay-to, Po-ta-to: Analogies and NPIV/NPV

In a recent post, I took a look at the Fibre Channel subjects of NPIV and NPV, both topics covered in the CCIE Data Center written exam (currently in beta, take yours now, $50!). The post generated a lot of comments. I mean, a lot. Over 50 so far (and still going).  An epic battle (although very unInternet-like in that it was very civil and respectful) brewed over how Fibre Channel compares to Ethernet/IP. The comments look like the aftermath of the battle of Wolf 359.

Captain, the analogy regarding squirrels and time travel didn’t survive

One camp, lead by Erik Smith from EMC (who co-wrote the best Fibre Channel book I’ve seen so far, and it’s free), compares the WWPNs to IP addresses, and FCIDs to MAC addresses. Some others, such as Ivan Pepelnjak and myself, compare WWPNs to MAC addresses, and FCIDs to IP addresses. There were many points and counter-points. Valid arguments were made supporting each position. Eventually, people agreed to disagree. So which one is right? They both are.

Wait, what? Two sides can’t be right, not on the Internet!

When comparing Fibre Channel to Ethernet/IP, it’s important to remember that they are different. In fact, significantly different. The only purpose for relating Fibre Channel to Ethernet/IP is for the purpose of relating those who are familiar with Ethernet/IP to the world of Fibre Channel. Many (most? all?) people learn by building associations with known subjects (in our case Ethernet/IP)  to lesser known (in this case Fibre Channel) subjects.

Of course, any association includes includes its inherent inaccuracies. We purposefully sacrifice some accuracy in order to attain relatability. Specific details and inaccuracies are glossed over. To some, introducing any inaccuracy is sacrilege. To me, it’s being overly pedantic. Pedantic details are for the expert level. Using pedantic facts as an admonishment of an analogy misses the point entirely. With any analogy, there will always be inaccuracies, and there will always be many analogies to be made.

Personally, I still prefer the WWPN ~= MAC/FC_ID ~= IP approach, and will continue to use it when I teach. But the other approach I believe is completely valid as well. At that point, it’s just a matter of preference. Both roads lead to the same destination, and that is what’s really important.

Learning always happens in layers. Coat after coat is applied, increasing in accuracy and pedantic details as you go along. Analogies is a very useful and effective tool to learn any subject.


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