Trouble Shooting Intermittent Virtual Machine Network Connectivity

I was asked to take a look at an issue with virtual machines losing network connectivity. The problems were described as follows:

Sometimes some VMs had connectivity, some times they didn’t. It was not tied to specific virtual machines. Sometimes the problem was not there, than it showed up again. It was, not an issue of a wrong subnet mask or gateway.

They suspected firmware or driver issues. Maybe it was a Windows NIC teaming bug or problems with DVMQ or NIC offload settings. There’s a lot of potential reasons, just Google Intermittent VM connectivity Issues Hyper-V and you’ll get a truckload of options.

So a round of wishful firmware, driver upgrading started. Followed by a round of wishful disabling network features. That’s one way to do it. But why not sit back an look at the issue.

Based on what they said I looked at the environment and asked it was tied to specific host as only VMs on one of the hosts had the issue.  Could it be be after a live migration or a VM restart. They didn’t really know but it could. So we started looking at the hosts. All teams for the vSwitch were correctly configured on all host. No tagged VLAN on the member NIC. No extra team interfaces that would violate the rule that there can be only one if the team is used by a Hyper-V switch. They used the switch independent teaming mode with the load balancing mode set to Dynamic, all member active. Perfect.

I asked it they used tagged VLAN on the VMs some times. They said yes. Which gave me a clue they had trunking or general mode configured on the ports. So I looked at the switches to see what the port configuration was like?  Guess what. All ports on both switches were correctly configured bar the ports of the vSwitch team members on one Hyper-V host. The one with problematic VMs. The two ports were in general mode but the port on the top switch had PVID* 100 and the one on the bottom switch had PVID 200. That was the issue. If the VM “landed” on the team member with PVID 200 it has no network connectivity.



* PVID (switchport general pvid 200) is the default VLAN of the port, in CISCO speak that would translate into “”native VLAN as in switchport trunk native vlan 200

Yes NIC firmware and drivers have issues. There are bugs or problems with advanced features once in a while. But you really do need to check that the configuration is correct and the design or setup makes sense. Do yourself a favor by not assuming anything. Trust but verify.

In Defense of Switch Independent Teaming With Hyper-V

For many old timers (heck, that includes me) NIC teaming with LACP mode was the best of the best, at least when it comes to teaming options. Other modes often led to passive/active, less than optimal receiving network traffic aggregation. Basically, and perhaps over simplified, I could say the other options were only used if you had no other choice to get things to work. Which we did a lot … I used Intel’s different teaming modes for various reasons in the past (before we had MLAG, VLT, VPC, …). Trying to use LACP where possible was a good approach in the past in physical deployments and early virtualized environments when 1Gbps networking dominated the datacenter realm and Windows did not have native support for LBFO.

But even LACP, even in those days, had some drawbacks. It’s the most demanding form of teaming. For one it required switch stacking. This demands the same brand and type of switches and that means you have no redundancy during firmware upgrades. That’s bad, as the only way to work around that is to move all workload to another rack unit … if you even had the capability to do that! So even in days past we chose different models if teaming out of need or because of the above limitations for high availability. But the superiority of NIC teaming with LACP still stands for many and as modern switches support MLAG, VLT, etc. the drawback of stacking can be avoided. So does that mean LACP for NIC teaming is always the superior choice today?

Some argue it is and now they have found support in the documentation about Microsoft CPS system documentation about Microsoft CPS system. Look, even if Microsoft chose to use LACP in their solutions it’s based on their particular design and the needs of that design I do not concur that this is the best overall. It is however a valid & probably the choice for their specific setup. While I applaud the use of MLAG (when available to you a no or very low cost) to have all bases covered but it does not mean that LACP is the best choice for the majority of use cases with Hyper-V deployments. Microsoft actually agrees with me on this in their Windows Server 2012 R2 NIC Teaming (LBFO) Deployment and Management guide. They state that Switch Independent configuration / Dynamic distribution (or Hyper-V Port if on Hyper-V and if not on W2K12R2)  is the best possible default choice is for teaming in both native and Hyper-V environments. I concur, even if perhaps not that strong for native workloads (it depends). Exceptions to this:

  • Teaming is being performed in a VM (which should be rare),
  • Switch dependent teaming (e.g., LACP) is required by policy, or
  • Operation of a two-member Active/Standby team is required by policy.

In other words in 2 out of 3 cases the reason is a policy, not a technical superior solution …

Note that there are differences between Address Hash, Hyper-V Port mode & the new dynamic distribution modes and the latter has made things better in W2K12R2 in regards to bandwidth but you’ll need the read the white papers. Use dynamic as default, it is the best. Also note that LACP/Switch Dependent doesn’t mean you can send & receive to and from a VM over the aggregated bandwidth of all team members. Life is more complicated than that. So if that’s you’re main reason for switch dependent, and think you’re done => be ware Winking smile.

Switch Independent is also way better for optimization of VMQ. You have more queues available (sum-of-queues) and the IO path is very predictable & optimized.

If you don’t control the switches there’s a lot more cross team communication involved to set up teaming for your hosts. There’s more complexity in these configurations so more possibilities for errors or bugs. Operational ease is also a factor.

The biggest draw back could be that for receiving traffic you cannot get more than the bandwidth a single team member can deliver. That’s true but optimizing receiving traffic has it’s own demands and might not always be that great if the switch configuration isn’t that smart & capable. Do I ever miss the potential ability to aggregate incoming traffic. In real life I do not (yet) but in some configurations it could do a great job to optimize that when needed.

When using 10Gbps or higher you’ll rarely be in a situation where receiving traffic is higher than 10Gbps or higher and if you want to get that amount of traffic you really need to leverage DVMQ. And a as said switch independent teaming with port of dynamic mode gives you the most bang for the buck. as you have more queues available. This drawback is mitigated a bit by the fact that modern NICs have way larger number of queues available than they used to have. But if you have more than one VM that is eating close to 10Gbps in a non lab environment and you planning to have more than 2 of those on a host you need to start thinking about 40Gbps instead of aggregating a fistful of 10Gbps cables. Remember the golden rules a single bigger pipe is always better than a bunch of small pipes.

When using 1Gbps you’ll be at that point sooner and as 1Gbps isn’t a great fit for (Dynamic) VMQ anyway I’d say, sure give LACP a spin to try and get a bit more bandwidth but will it really matter? In native workloads it might but with a vSwith?  Modern CPUs eat 1Gbps NICs for breakfast, so I would not bother with VMQ. But when you’re tied to 1Gbps it’s probably due to budget constraints and you might not even have stackable, MLAG, VLT or other capable switches. But the arguments can be made, it depends (see Don’t tell me “It depends”! But it does!). But in any case I start saving for 10Gbps Smile

Today as the PC8100 series and the N4000 Series (budget 10Gbps switches, yes I know “budget” is relative but in the 10Gbps world, but they offer outstanding value for money), I tend to set up MLAG with two of these per rack. This means we have all options and needs covered at no extra cost and without sacrificing redundancy under any condition. However look at the needs of your VMs and the capability of your NICs before using LACP for teaming by default. The fact that switch independent works with any combination of budget switches to get redundancy doesn’t mean it’s only to be used in such scenarios. That’s a perk for those without more advanced gear, not a consolation price.

My best advise: do not over engineer it. Engineer it for the best possible solution for the environment at hand. When choosing a default it’s not about the best possible redundancy and bandwidth under certain conditions. It’s about the best possible redundancy and bandwidth under most conditions. It’s there that switch independent comes into it’s own, today more than ever!

There is one other very good, but luckily also a very rare case where LACP/Switch dependent will save you and switch independent won’t: dead switch ports, where the port becomes dysfunctional. So while switch independent protects against NIC, Switch, cable failures, here it doesn’t help you as it doesn’t know (it’s about link failures, not logical issues on a port).

For the majority of my Hyper-V deployments I do not use switch dependent / LACP. The situation where I did had to do with Windows NLB in combination with ICMP Multicast.

Note: You can do VLT, MLAG, stacking and still leverage switch independent teaming, LACP or static switch dependent is NOT mandatory even when possible.

I Can’t Afford 10GBps For Hyper-V And Other Lies

You’re wrong

There, I said it. Sure you can. Don’t think you need to be a big data center to make this happen. You just need to think and work outside the box a bit and when you’re not a large enterprise, that’s a bit more easy to do. Don’t do it like a big name brand, traditionalist partner would do it (strip & refit the entire structural cabling in the server room, high end gear with big margins everywhere). You’re going for maximum results & value, not sales margins and bonuses.

I would even say you can’t afford to stay on 1Gbps much longer or you’ll be dealing with the fall out of being stuck in the past. Really some of us are already look at > 10Gbps connections to the servers, actually. You need to move from 1Gbps or you’ll be micro managing a way around issues sucking all the fun out of your work with ever diminishing results and rising costs for both you and the business.

Give your Windows Server 2012R2 Hyper-V environment the bandwidth it needs to shine and make the company some money. If all you want to do is to spent as little money as possible I’m not quite sure what your goal is? Either you need it or you don’t.  I’m convinced we need it. So we must get it. Do what it takes. Let me show you one way to get what you need.

Sounds great what do I do?

Take heart, be brave and of good courage! Combine it with skills, knowledge & experience to deliver a 10Gbps infrastructure as part of ongoing maintenance & projects. I just have to emphasize that some skills are indeed needed, pure guts alone won’t do it.

First of all you need to realize that you do not need to rip and replace your existing network infrastructure. That’s very hard to get approval for, takes too much time and rapidly becomes very expensive in both dollars and efforts. Also, to be honest, quiet often you don’t have that kind of pull. I for one certainly do not. And if I’d try to do that way it takes way too many meetings, diplomacy, politics, ITIL, ITML & Change Approval Board actions to make it happen. This adds to the cost even more, both in time and money. So leave what you have in place, for this exercise we assume it’s working fine but you can’t afford to have wait for many hours while all host drains in 6 node cluster and you need to drain all of them to add memory. So we have a need (OK you’ll need a better business case than this but don’t make to big a deal of it or you’ll draw unwanted attention) and we’ve taking away the fear factor of fork lift replacing the existing network which is a big risk & cost.

So how do I go about it?

Start out as part of regular upgrades, replacement or new deployments. The money is their for those projects. Make sure to add some networking budget and leverage other projects need to support the networking needs.

Get a starter budget for a POC of some sort, it will get your started to acquire some more essential missing  bits.

By reasonably cheap switches of reasonable port count that do all you need. If they’re readily available in a frame work contract, great. You can get it as part of the normal procedures. But if you want to nock another 6% to 8% of the cost order them directly from the vendor. Cut out the middle man.

Buy some gear as part of your normal refresh cycle. Adapt that cycle life time a bit to suit your needs where possible. Funding for operation maintenance & replacement should already be in place right?

Negotiate hard with your vendor. Listen, just like in the storage world, the network world has arrived at a point where they’re not going to be making tons of money just because they are essential. They have lots of competition and it’s only increasing. There are deals to be made and if you chose the right hardware it’s gear that won’t lock you into proprietary cabling, SPF+ modules and such. Or not to much anyway Smile.

Design options and choices

Small but effective

If you’re really on minimal budget just introduce redundant (independent) stand alone 10Gbps switches for the East-West traffic that only runs between the nodes in the data center. CSV, Live Migration, backup. You don’t even need to hook it up to the network for data traffic, you only need to be able to remotely manage it and that’s what they invented Out Off Band (OOB) ports for. See also an old post of mine Introducing 10Gbps With A Dedicated CSV & Live Migration Network (Part 2/4). In the smallest cheapest scenario I use just 2 independent switches. In the other scenario build a 2 node spine and the leaf. In my examples I use DELL network gear. But use whatever works best for your needs and your environment. Just don’t go the “nobody ever got fired for buying XXX” route, that’s fear, not courage! Use cheaper NetGear switches if that fits your needs. Your call, see my  recent blog post on this 10Gbps Cheap & Without Risk In Even The Smallest Environments.

Medium sized excellence

First of all a disclaimer: medium sized isn’t a standardized way of measuring businesses and their IT needs. There will be large differences depending on you neck of the woods Smile.

Build your 10Gbps infrastructure the way you want it and aim it to grow to where it might evolve. Keep it simple and shallow. Go wide where you need to. Use the Spine/Leaf design as a basis, even if what you’re building is smaller than what it’s normally used for. Borrow the concept. All 10Gbps traffic, will be moving within that Spine/Leaf setup. Only client server traffic will be going out side of it and it’s a small part of all traffic. This is how you get VM mobility, great network speeds in the server room avoiding the existing core to become a bandwidth bottleneck.

You might even consider doing Infiniband where the cost/Gbps is very attractive and it will serve you well for a long time. But it can be a hard sell as it’s “another technology”.

Don’t panic, you don’t need to buy a bunch of Nexus 7000’s  or Force10 Z9000 to do this in your moderately sized server room. In medium sized environment I try to follow the “Spine/Leaf” concept even if it’s not true ECMP/CLOSS, it’s the principle. For the spine choose the switches that fit your size, environment & growth. I’ve used the Force10 S4810 with great success and you can negotiate hard on the price. The reasons I went for the higher priced Force10 S4810 are:

  • It’s the spine so I need best performance in that layer so that’s where I spend my money.
  • I wanted VLT, stacking is a big no no here. With VLT I can do firmware upgrades without down time.
  • It scales out reasonably by leveraging eVLT if ever needed.

For the ToR switches I normally go with PowerConnect 81XX F series or the N40XXF series, which is the current model. These provide great value for money and I can negotiate hard on price here while still getting 10Gbps with the features I need. I don’t need VLT as we do switch independent NIC teaming with Windows. That gives me the best scalability wit DVMQ & vRSS and allows for firmware upgrades without any network down time in the rack. I do sacrifice true redundant LACP within the rack but for the few times I might really need to have that I could go cross racks & still maintain a rack a failure domain as the ToRs are redundant. I avoid stacking, it’s a single point of failure during firmware upgrades and I don’t like that. Sure I can could leverage the rack a domain of failure to work around that but that’s not very practical for ordinary routine maintenance. The N40XXF also give me the DCB capabilities I need for SMB Direct.

Hook it up to the normal core switch of the existing network, for just the client/server.(North/South) traffic. I make sure that any VLANs used for CSV, live migration, can’t even reach that part of the network.  Even data traffic (between virtual machines, physical servers) goes East-West within your Spine/Leave and never goes out anyway unless you did something really weird and bad.

As said, you can scale out VLT using eVLT that creates a port channel between 2 VLT domains. That’s nice. So in a medium sized business you’re pretty save in growth. If you grow beyond this, we’ll be talking about a way larger deployment anyway and true ECMP/CLOS and that’s not the scale I’m dealing with where. For most medium sized business or small ones with bigger needs this will do the job. ECMP/CLOS Spine/leaf actually requires layer 3 in the design and as you might have noticed I kind if avoid that. Again, to get to a good solution today instead of a real good solution next year which won’t happen because real good is risky and expensive. Words they don’t like to hear above your pay grade.

The picture below is just for illustration of the concept. Basically I normally have only one VLT domain and have two 10Gbps switches per rack. This gives me racks as failure domains and it allows me to forgo a lot of extra structural cabling work to neatly provide connectivity form the switches  to the server racks .image

You have a  scalable, capable & affordable 10Gbps or better infrastructure that will run any workload in style.. After testing you simply start new deployments in the Spine/Leaf and slowly mover over existing workloads. If you do all this as part of upgrades it won’t cause any downtime due to the network being renewed. Just by upgrading or replacing current workloads.

The layer 3 core in the picture above is the uplink to your existing network and you don’t touch that. Just let if run until there nothing left in there and you can clean it up or take it out. Easy transition. The core can be left in place or replaces when needed due to age or capabilities.

To keep things extra affordable

While today the issues with (structural) 10Gbps copper CAT6A and NICs/Switches seem solved, when I started doing 10Gbps fibre cabling of Copper Twinax Direct Attach was the only way to go. 10GBaseT wasn’t an option yet and I still love the flexibility of fibre, it consumes less space and weighs less then CAT6A. Fibre also fits easily in existing cable infrastructure. Less hassle. But CAT6A will work fine today, no worries.

If you decide to do fibre, buy OM3, you can get decent, affordable cabling on line. Order it as consumable supplies.

Spend some time on the internet and find the SFP+ that works with your switches to save a significant amount of money. Yup some vendor switches work with compatible non OEM branded SPF+ modules. Order them as consumable supplies, but buy some first to TEST! Save money but do it smart, don’t be silly.

For patch cabling 10Gbps Copper Twinax Direct Attach works great for short ranges and isn’t expensive, but the length is limited and they get thicker & more sturdy and thus unwieldy by length. It does have it’s place and I use them where appropriate.

Isn’t this dangerous?

Nope. Technology wise is perfectly sound and nothing new. Project wise it delivers results, fast, effective and without breaking the bank. Functionally you now have all the bandwidth you need to stop worrying and micromanaging stuff to work around those pesky bandwidth issues and focus on better ways of doing things. You’ve given yourself options & possibilities. Yay!

Perhaps the approach to achieve this isn’t very conventional. I disagree. Look, anyone who’s been running projects & delivering results knows the world isn’t that black and white. We’ve been doing 10Gbps for 4 years now this way and with (repeated) great success while others have to wait for the 1Gbps structural cabling to be replaced some day in the future … probably by 10Gbps copper in a 100Gbps world by the time it happens. You have to get the job done. Do you want results, improvements, progress and success or just avoid risk and cover your ass? Well then, choose & just make it happen. Remember the business demands everything at the speed of light, delivered yesterday at no cost with 99.999% uptime.  So this approach is what they want, albeit perhaps not what they say.

Live Migration over SMB Direct leaves more CPU cycles for Virtual RSS (vRSS) in Windows Server 2012 R2

I recently (January 22nd 2014) gave a WebCast presentation for the Dutch Windows Management User Group (@WMUG_NL) in which I made the case for using SMB Direct with Live Migration to save CPU cycles other (VM) workloads. There are several areas where the CPU cycles are better spent but I used vRSS to show case one scenario.

We’re using a 2 node Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V cluster on Dell PowerEdge R720 servers with Mellanox ConnectX-3 (CSV  &  live migration) and Intel X520-DA (Hyper-V switch), all 10Gbps.

This is what a CPU bottleneck looks like that can be solved by using vRSS in Windows Server 2012 R2.image

The host machines are Hyper Threading enabled. The virtual switch is attached to a switch independent NIC team with dynamic mode. In this setup it’s normal that the sending VM is leveraging both members while the receiving VM traffic is coming in over one member of the host team.

No let’s enable vRSS in the VM and see what this does for this picture.image

Pretty impressive isn’t it. DidierTest03 is the sending VM running on host A and DidierTest04 is the receiving VM that has vRSS enabled and is running on Host B. For vRSS you need both hosts and VMs to run Windows Server 2012 or Windows 8.1. You can see the load is spread across 7 vCPUs in the VM. DidierTest04 has 8 vCPUs. I configured vRSS in the VM to be able to use 7 vCPUs and leave vCPU 0, the default one, alone to handle those workloads.


Given multiple Logical CPUs & vCPUs we can get line speed with 10Gbps inside a virtual machine. This, ladies and gentlemen is a thing of beauty.

Now tell me, if you have business related needs for those CPU cycles why would you not offload the work that needs to be done for live migration to the NIC via SMB direct? This is about getting maximum VM density, performance & ROI form your infrastructure, whilst saving on servers, power and cooling. When you see the smile on your clients or bosses face, just say “you’re welcome” and smile back Open-mouthed smile.