Remote Communications During A Crisis Can Be Challenging – Some Things To Think About
That’s “Ethernet over MPLS” to you! My blog from a couple of days ago mentioned that the Catalyst 6500 with Sup720 has great forwarding performance with EoMPLS, without adding any specialized hardware such as the SIP or ES cards. See https://netcraftsmen.com/blogs/entry/extended-vlan-mitigation.html for the context.
In this blog, I intend to write (briefly, I think I can manage briefly…) about the basics, then show the lab tested configuration snippets.
I think of EoMPLS as a virtual patch cord. Frames go in a port on a switch, get transported via MPLS labels over an IP routed network, and get spit out a port on another switch. The term “pseudowire” (“PWE”) is also used for EoMPLS or similar “virtual patch cord” functionality.
EoMPLS comes in two flavors: port-based (everything goes on a trunk port, preserving 802.1q VLAN info) or VLAN-based (traffic in an access VLAN gets transported). VLAN-based can transport different VLANs to different endpoints, or mix and match L2 and L3 activities on a port (via subinterfaces). It is configured using dot1q subinterfaces. I may include configuration samples in a second blog.
Why EoMPLS? It is downright handy when you have a VLAN that needs to be HERE and THERE, with a routed network in the middle. For example, cluster heartbeat between servers in two data centers. You do need MPLS capable switches that can also do EoMPLS at wire speed. Unlike MPLS VPN, there is no requirement for MBGP.
Note that the technology will in principle do that for you. I’m not necessarily recommending you do that, because the cluster may behave oddly if the network between HERE and THERE goes flaky, drops packets for a while, etc. But EoMPLS is a great thing to have in your bag of tricks, for when you need it.
The other warning about EoMPLS is it might be a bit dangerous to your network’s health. It is so easy to set up, that you can easily dig yourself a nice big hole, full or L2 over L3 “spaghetti”. Which complicates troubleshooting, defeats structured design, ignores the carefully crafted routed core in your network, and causes warts. Well, 3 out of 4 anyway.
Like QinQ tunneling (802.1q tunneling of switched traffic), EoMPLS just takes the frame that comes in a port (somehow), transports it across the middle, and spits it out the paired port on the other end. There is no examination of MAC address, no learning of source MAC address, in short, no switching logic applied.
VPLS is Virtual Private LAN Service. It is EoMPLS on steroids. In VPLS, the switch can have several EoMPLS tunnels and make a switching decision, as to which one to use. VPLS in the 6500 (7600) requires extra hardware assistance. It does not work in a “vanilla” 6500 (assuming the 6500 can somehow be considered vanilla is kind of a big assumption, I know).
If you want switching logic, you can cheat a bit. If you cable the port doing EoMPLS to another switch, that other switch does normal switching. You can even cable the EoMPLS to a non-EoMPLS port on the same switch. This is called a “loopback cable”. (I do wish folks used a term that couldn’t be confused with a loopback interface. Something like “humdinger” or “frobozz” perhaps?) This is mildly wasteful of ports, but works just fine.
So if you want to transport traffic from any of a bunch of ports on a switch to another switch using EoMPLS, add one more port to the VLAN, cable it physically to the EoMPLS port, and it’ll work.
Three switches, swA, swB, and swC. Switches swA and swB are connected to swC (“C as in Core”).
I enabled MPLS globally and on the uplink / downlink interfaces between the swA, swB, and swC switches. In practice, one would enable them on all infrastructure uplinks, downlinks, and crosslinks in the distribution and core layers, and to selected closets if you need EoMPLS anywhere, anytime. The technique does not work if there is a routed path along which MPLS is not enabled.
Note: to support the MPLS labels, you’ll want jumbo support consistently configured throughout as well. This requires per-interface configuration on uplinks, downlinks, and crosslinks. (The same interfaces that will be doing MPLS labels.)
Sample configuration for doing this:
(The interfaces or port channels required vary with the switch connections, of course.)
Do NOT configure MPLS on the port that will be connected at L2 via EoMPLS. Just the paths in between the two endpoints (along all reasonable routes).
I created two xconnect pseudowires, one from swA to swC, the other from swB to swC. As noted, the pseudo-wires can either be port-based (all VLANs) or VLAN-based (just one VLAN). I tried it both ways. Due to late hours, I did not test VLAN-based extensively.
The first xconnect went from Gig 4/1 to Gig 2/2, the second from Gig 4/1 to Gig 2/3 (swA and swB to swC). The addresses shown are the loopback address for the switch on the other end. The number is the circuit ID, which allows the two switches to recognize the two ends of one connection.
Here’s some captured text from switch B:
And for switch A:
And for switch C:
Note the VCID is 200 for one xconnect, 201 for the other. These have to be different for each pseudo-wire, and are used by the endpoints to match up xconnect commands. That is, the two ends of an xconnect must agree on the VCID number.
Along the way, I ran into two problems. The first took some time to resolve. The xconnect was not coming up, and debug showed an authorization problem. It turned out the MTU on the physical port (for port-based) has to be set, and to at least 1504, to accommodate VLAN 802.1q tagging. Subsequent experimentation showed that the xconnect verifies that the two end physical ports have the same MTU. (This would be a lovely nasty time-killer for a CCIE lab test, I suspect.)
Caution: not all 6500 blades support jumbos (8000 to 9216 byte MTU). See http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/473/103.pdf. The 6748 line cards do, the 6148A series does, the 6148 and 6548 do not.
The second (minor) problem was that the xconnect does not come up unless the physical port is up (something connected to it, link status). If you’re trying to configure it without two devices plugged into the two ends, it’s going to be difficult to see that word “up”. (I was somewhat expecting it to behave more like a GRE tunnel: configure it and if it is happy, it shows as “up”.)
I mention these as possible gotchas when doing xconnect. They could consume time trouble-shooting if you don’t expect this behavior.
This was testing by plugging in my two test PCs, addressed with 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199. Those were certainly not in the global routing table in the lab.
When I did so, I could ping between the PCs, despite their being connected to two different switches with only routing of 10.0.0.0 networks in between. I varied the PC connection points to test all combinations (pairs of ports). They worked. (Output not captured.)
I also verified that when one PC was on swA and the other on swB, they could not ping each other (nor even ARP each other). There is no local switching of traffic coming out one pseudowire back into another. (For that, SIP or ES hardware is required with VPLS functionality).
However, I patched port 2/2 on swC to 2/5, and 2/3 to 2/6, and did “no shutdown” on the latter two ports. They defaulted to both being in VLAN 1. I was then able to ping between the edge-connected PCs. Neat!
The following capture shows that ports 2/5 and 2/6 were doing normal MAC-based LAN switching, and there was no MAC learning on ports 2/2 and 2/3:
Once this was worked, I was pleased with the extreme simplicity of adding xconnects.
Note also that enabling jumbos and MPLS on the infrastructure only needs to be done once, no matter how many xconnects are to be built for various purposes. For new deployments and upgrades, we now enable jumbos on the infrastructure since consistently doing it supports all sorts of later needs. And doing it in ad hoc fashion is an invitation to all sorts of fun, especially with OSPF. (Adjacencies stay up with MTU mismatches, but won’t come up after the link bounces — even months after you changed the configuration.)
Note: redundant xconnects for High Availability require special handling of Spanning Tree. Note however that re-routing and MPLS will keep an xconnect up if there is any routed path fully supporting MPLS between the endpoints, so xconnects should be rather robust.
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Nick has over 20 years of experience in Security Operations and Security Sales. He is an avid student of cybersecurity and regularly engages with the Infosec community at events like BSides, RVASec, Derbycon and more. The son of an FBI forensics director, Nick holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is one of Cisco’s Fire Jumper Elite members. When he’s not working, he writes cyberpunk and punches aliens on his Playstation.
Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.
John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services. Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.
He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.