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18 February 2019

Cisco Virtual Networking

I was working as a virtualization administrator 9 years ago and I still remember how the virtualization team had to configure and manage the virtual network. The main tasks of the virtualization team were to create and manage virtual machines but, from time to time, we also had to manage the virtual network. I always thought networking should be managed by the networking team regardless of virtual or physical, but the networking team said everything virtual should be managed by the virtualization team. It was chaotic.

Actually, I already really loved networking and I didn’t mind to manage virtual networks but roles and responsibilities were not clarify defined. Therefore, nobody applied network and security policies between virtual machines and nobody wanted to troubleshoot communication problems between virtual machines. However, clear separation of roles could already be got with technologies such as Nexus 1000V and VM-FEX. These two technologies help organizations to address these problems.

Cisco Virtual Networking Solution Options

Cisco Virtual Networking solutions, such as VM-FEX and Nexus 1000V, help customers to reduce the operational complexities and take advantages of virtual technologies. For instance, virtual networks can be managed in the same way that physical networks because we’ll have the same command line (Cisco NX-OS CLI) and network administrators don’t have to be retrained. In addition, we’ll use the same monitoring and management tools to manage both environments. What’s more, we will be able to apply network and security policies between virtual machines.

I’ve already written about Cisco Nexus Fabric Extender (FEX), which removes the line cards from the modular switch with the aim of installing remote line cards as ToR switches. However, these remote line cards are like virtual wires to the Parent Switch where the management, control and data plane are carried out. VM-FEX is the same Cisco FEX technology but it is applied to the virtual environment thus VM-FEX extends the physical network to virtual machines.

Cisco VM-FEX Extends Cisco Fabric Extender Technology with Cisco UCS Fabric Interconnects
One of the main benefits of VM-FEX is the operation simplicity because both environment, virtual and physical, can be managed with the same tools and same networking administrators. However, another interesting advantage is the improved performance because SR-IOV functionality, enabled into the virtual platform, offers near-bare-metal performance for virtual workloads.

Finally, the Cisco Virtual Networking solution Cisco Nexus 1000V Series extends networking functions to the hypervisor layer. This solution has two components. The Virtual Ethernet Module (VEM), which is a software line card connected to each virtual machine, and the Virtual Supervisor Module (VSM), which is the management module for controlling multiple VEMs. This solution has lots of advantages, like VM-FEX does, but I think the main advantage is the hardware requirements because Cisco Nexus 1000V Series is a software solution while VM-FEX required dedicated hardware.

Cisco Nexus VEM and VSM Components
That’s all my friends. Two Cisco Virtual Networking solutions for your portfolio. Keep learning and keep studying!!

11 February 2019

Unified Fabric and FCoE

I still remember the first Data Center where I worked almost 10 years ago. There were mainly three racks. One for switches, routers, load balancers and firewalls, another for servers and the third one for the Storage Area Network (SAN). This last rack had an storage array and a tape library along with storage switches. I had to know about networking, security, systems and storage. That years were amazing because I had just finished my degree in IT engineer at University and I learnt a lot in that Data Center. Thanks, of course, to my workmates.

Why I’ve highlighted the third rack? Because IT trends are changing. I’m not going to write about virtual servers because it’s already here but I’m going to write about converged infrastructures. Most IT engineers know about Hyper Converged Infrastructures (HCI), others don’t know anything yet. The aim of HCI is to include servers, storage and networking all together. This can be achieved thanks to software-defined IT infrastructures. Therefore, the third rack, which I administered as a storage engineer, no longer makes sense because storage is going to be into the virtual infrastructure as a virtual SAN (vSAN).

Enterprise NAS file services for VMware vSAN

HCI solutions such as VMware vSAN, HPE SimpliVity or Nutanix are increasingly known. They are getting market bit by bit. However, there are also companies who don’t want to install HCI technology yet but they first want to converge storage to FCoE switches. This is an advantage because we can throw away the storage switches and converge to network switches, such as Cisco Nexus, for networking and storage. Thus, one kind of switch for everything. Less cables, less complexity, better efficiency, cost saving, operation simplicity, etc. Lots of advantages.

Unified Fabric and FCoE

As network engineers, we are used to reading IPoE, PPPoE or PoE. Three technologies which are over Ethernet. FCoE is similar than that. This is a technology that encapsulates Fibre Channel frames over Ethernet networks. It’s useful in high speed networks like 10 GbE networks where we can have a SAN with Ethernet switches instead of dedicated storage switches. Therefore, as network engineers, it’s time to learn about storage, or storage engineers will have to learn about networking.

FCoE - Frame Structure

These days I’m learning about storage, though, I’m still remember about zoning, HBAs, WWNN, etc. For instance, what I didn’t know is NPIV and NPV which are two new technologies for me. These Fibre Channel features are useful for virtualized infrastructures and large SAN deployments. The first one, NPIV or N-Port ID Virtualization, is interesting to attach LUNs to virtual machines while the second one, NPV or N-Port Virtualizer, is able to aggregate the locally connected host ports into one or more uplinks to the core switches.

N-Port Identifier Virtualization (NPIV)

It seems IT engineers will have to converge too. Network engineers will have to learn about storage for installing and configuring FCoE switches and/or systems engineers will have to learn about storage and networking too for Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI). We’ll see, meanwhile, keep studying my friends!!
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