UPDATE 3/8/2011: This video series has been obsoleted by a new and updated series posted here:

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

This is a presentation I developed covering networking best practices for Cisco UCS, and now have recorded in High Definition for your viewing pleasure! Sweet! :-)

This presentation assumes familiarity with basic networking and server VNIC concepts in UCS, and familiarity with virtual port channels.

This version of the presentation (v2.5) focuses primarily on the Ethernet uplinks. SAN uplinks and VMware networking scenarios are briefly discussed but not covered extensively. Those topics and others such as QoS, the Cisco VIC, and vNIC fabric failover may be included in future versions of this presentation.

Stay tuned for updates! RSS feed: http://bradhedlund.com/feed/

UPDATE 3/8/2011: This video series has been obsoleted by a new and updated series posted here: Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

Part 1 - Cisco UCS Networking Overview

In Part 1 we take start with a baseline overview of Cisco UCS Networking. At the heart of the system is the Fabric Interconnect (6100) “the Brains of UCS” which provides 10GE & FC networking for all the compute nodes in its domain as well as being the central configuration, management, and policy engine for all automated server and network provisioning.

Part 2 - Switch Mode vs. End Host Mode

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

Part 2 is an examination of the two different switching modes supported by the Fabric Interconnect, “Switch Mode” and “End Host Mode”. With “Switch Mode”, the Fabric Interconnect behaves like a normal Layer 2 switch on all server ports and uplinks, and therefore attaches to the upstream data center network as a spanning tree enabled “Switch”.

“End Host Mode”, on the other hand, while still providing local Layer 2 switching on the server ports, does not behave like a normal Layer 2 switch on its uplinks. Instead, server NICs are “pinned” to a specific uplink, and no local switching happens from uplink to uplink. This allows “End Host Mode” to attach to the network like a “Host” without spanning tree, and all uplinks forwarding on all VLANs.

End Host Mode is the preferred mode, and it’s enabled by default.

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

In Part 3 we take a look how the individual uplinks behave in End Host Mode, and how the system reacts to uplink failures. When an uplink fails, the Fabric Interconnect will move the server NICs to a new uplink in under a second without causing any disruption to the server NIC. This uplink failover process is called dynamic re-pinning.

After the dynamic re-pinning process, the Fabric Interconnect will send Gratuitous ARP messages for all of the MAC address that were previously using the failed uplink. This GARP process aids the upstream network in quickly learning the new location of the affected MAC address now using the new uplink.

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

Here we take a look at the benefits of using Port Channel uplinks with Cisco UCS. The key advantages to port channel uplinks is the minimal impact of a physical link failure and the potential for better overall uplink load balancing. During individual physical link failures fewer moving parts required to provide a fast recovery. For example, Gratuitous ARP messages and dynamic re-pinning are not required when an individual physical member link fails in a port channel uplink. Port Channel uplinks are definitely recommended whenever possible.

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

Part 5 covers the advantages of using virtual port channel (vPC) uplinks with Cisco UCS. With vPC uplinks, there is minimal impact of both physical link failures and upstream switch failures. With more physical member links in one larger logical uplink, there is the potential for even better overall uplink load balancing and better high availability than with a standard Port Channel uplink discussed in Part 4. Using a virtual port channel uplink is highly recommended if you have vPC capabilities present in your upstream network switches.

Part 6 - Connecting Cisco UCS to separate networks

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

In Part 6 we discuss the scenario of connecting a single Cisco UCS system in End Host Mode to separate Layer 2 networks. When the system is in End Host Mode, it expects and assumes that all uplinks are connected to the same common Layer 2 domain. If some uplinks are connected to physically separate networks you will have connectivity problems. The Fabric Interconnect will randomly pick one of its uplinks to process broadcast messages for all VLANs. As a result, only servers associated with the chosen network will be able to see and process broadcasts messages on their network. The solution is create a common Layer 2 network for the Fabric Interconnect in End Host Mode and each of the separate networks to attach to, or, use Switch Mode. If creating a common Layer 2 network or using Switch Mode is not an option, you can always deploy a unique Cisco UCS system per separate network to preserve the existing “silos”.

Part 7 - Inter Fabric Traffic Examples

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

This is a brief look at some the common types of traffic flows that may flow between Fabric-A and Fabric-B within a single Cisco UCS system. With this understanding, the subsequent material will make more sense.

Part 8 - Don’t: Connect Cisco UCS to vPC domains without vPC uplinks

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

This is a fairly extensive look at the scenario of attaching UCS to upstream switches configured for vPC, without using vPC uplinks. Here we will show that this scenario doesn’t make much sense and in fact can cause some unwanted traffic black holes under some failure scenarios. This is a prelude to Part 9 where we illustrate that if your upstream network is configured for virtual port channel capability (vPC), you should always attach UCS with vPC uplinks.

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

This section shows that if you have virtual port channel capabilities in your upstream switches, you have everything to gain and nothing to loose by connecting Cisco UCS with vPC uplinks. You will gain the benefit of the upstream switch locally switching all Fabric-A to Fabric-B traffic, and achieving more bandwidth scalability for inter-fabric traffic because all inter-fabric traffic will travel on the vPC uplinks, rather than on less abundant inter-switch links. Additionally, you will avoid potential black hole failure scenarios discussed in Part 8, if vPC is already present in the upstream network switches.

Part 10 - Connecting Cisco UCS without vPC

Cisco UCS Networking videos (in HD), Updated & Improved!

While there are certainly advantages to uplinking Cisco UCS with virtual port channels, vPC is certainly not required. Cisco UCS easily and efficiently connects to any data center network environment with or without vPC. This section discusses best practices connecting UCS to networks without vPC. The key best practice here is to always dual attach each Fabric Interconnect to two upstream network switches, whether its with vPC uplinks, or multiple individual uplinks. Another suggested practice is to avoid attaching Cisco UCS to a second tier Layer 2 switch with spanning tree blocking links. A better approach is to either have vPC capabilites at the second tier Layer 2 switch, or connect Cisco UCS directly to the tier 1 switch, avoiding a traffic bottlenecks induced by spanning tree.

Cisco Nexus 7000 connectivity solutions for Cisco UCS