Presenting at ITProceed 2015 & E2EVC 2015 Berlin on SMB Direct

You cannot afford to ignore SMB3 and it’s capabilities related to storage traffic such as multichannel, RDMA and encryption. SMB Direct over RoCE seems to have a bright future as it continuous to evolve and improve in Windows Server 2106. The need for DCB (PFC and optionally ETS) intimidates some people. But it should not.

I’ll be putting SMB Direct & RoCE into perspective at ITPROCEED | Welcome to THE IT Pro Event of the year! and #E2EVC E2EVC 2015 Berlin, June 12-14, 2015 Berlin, Germany, sharing experiences, tips and demos!  Come see PFC & ETS in action and learn what it can do for you. Storage vendors should most certainly consider supporting all features of SMB 3 natively as a competitive advantage. So Join me for the talk “SMB Direct – The Secret Decoder Ring”.

All these talks are at extremely affordable community driven events to make sure you can attend. The sessions are given by speakers who do this for the community (speakers and attendees do this in their own time and pay for their our own travel/expenses) and who work with these technology in real life and provide feedback to vendors on the issues or opportunities we see. This makes the sessions very interesting and anything but marketing, slide ware or sales pitches. See you there!

Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 9 – RDMA, RoCE, PFC and ETS

Just before Carsten Rachfahl and I left for Microsoft Ignite we recorded episode 9 of the Hyper-V Amigo Showcast. In this episode we’ll discuss SMB Direct over RoCE (RDMA over Converged Ethernet) which requires lossless Ethernet.

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Data Center Bridging is the way to achieve this. It has four standards, PFC (802.1Qbb), ETS (802.1Qaz), CN (802.1Qau) and DCBx, but only two are important to us now.Priority Flow Control (PFC) is mandatory

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and Enhanced Transmission Selection is optional (but very handy depending on your environment).

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If you need more information on this start with these blogs on the subject. But without further delay here’s Hyper-V Amigos Showcast Episode 9 – RDMA, RoCE, PFC and ETS

SMB Direct with DCB, PFC, ETS … How do I know it works?!

A question that comes up over time, again and again, is how do you know SMB Direct is working. The question stems from a nagging feeling that configuring DCB is a bit of playing wizard’s apprentice and we might not completely know what we’re doing, i.e. lack of experience.

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Many have suspected me of brewing up DCB configurations in a dark corner of the data center where no one else dares venture. But those are unsubstantiated rumors. But in coming blog posts we’ll address how to configure it end to end and we’ll show how to find out if it’s really working and how to test that.

Finding out if it really works, testing and monitoring isn’t magic. It boils down to using tools you know. Performance counters for RDMA Activity and SMB direct are natively available in Windows. Use them!The NIC vendors also provide very detailed counters, those are excellent and of great value when testing and confirming things work as they should. The latter is very important. Because after people are satisfied SMB Direct works they want to know if DCB is configured correctly. Does PFC work, are pause frames being send and received? Is it really lossless?  Does ETS really kick in when needed, do I get the minimum bandwidth I configured? These are very valid questions people struggle with. But the answer eludes many, almost like the question if the refrigerator light really goes out when you close the door.

It’s hard to do deep down in the network packets … that often requires a very specialized skillset and experience with packet analyzers etc. Nothing most of you can’t learn but often this is not a priority. But with some creativity and the performance counters on windows provided by the NIC vendors and the statistics counters on the switches you can demonstrate that both PFC & ETS doe work and kick in.

So in upcoming blogs & videos I’ll demonstrate the configuring SMB Direct over RoCE leveraging 2 parts of DCB:

  • PFC (Priority Flow Control) – mandatory for SMB Direct over RoCE
  • ETS (Enhanced Transmission Selection) – optional but I advise you to leveraged it for SMB Direct over RoCE

Actually, when doing true converged, no matter what route you go, QoS is not really optional any more.

The biggest challenge is to get people to wrap their heads around the concepts and it’s behavior. Once you do that you’ll understand how and why to configure it. It took me time and effort, there’s no way around it, but it’s well worth the effort.

Look, DCB is not 100% fully matured or perfect especially in large scale environments over > 2 or 3 hops. Frak, while I love tinkering, testing and playing with this stuff I have never been a “QoS first person”. If I can I thrown resources at the problem (CPU cycles; memory, bandwidth, …). QoS is like a gun. You only draw it when you must use it and than you’d better do it right otherwise you don’t touch it, bar for practice/training/ education. While perfection is not of this world and improvements are being worked on (ECN) it does work and deliver. How many of you had a large scale > 2 hops , > 20 switches deployment with FC, FCoE or iSCSI to worry about? So can it deliver what you need today in most scenarios? Yes! Can I fix the short comings of any random technologies? No. Can I leverage current technologies with great success despite this? Yes! So can you. There is a reason I get hired and paid. Trust me it’s not my looks, my bed side manner or charismatic appearance Winking smile.

Side note 1: I’m cannot possibly provide a switch configuration guide in a step by step fashion as the details vary by vendor, they can also be switch model/type specific and it all depends on your environment & needs. So no I cannot and will not attempt to write a bunch of these. This would be way too much work and way too expensive (time, hardware etc.), so unless I’m paid very generously to do so, you’re out of luck. It might be cheaper to hire me or to come to the free community sessions, presentations, ATE evenings and study up.

RDMA Over RoCE With DCB Requires Tagged Non Default VLANs

It’s DCB That Requires This

For those of you who are experimenting with the RoCE variant of RDMA for SMB Direct in Windows Server 2012 (R2), make sure you have a VLAN tag in your configuration if this is more than a simple RDMA over two NICs. The moment you get DBC with PFC & ETS involved you’ll need non default tagged VLANs. Do note that PFC alone is good enough, ETS is strictly speaking not a requirement, but I’d consider doing it if you can.

With Enhanced Transmission Selection (ETS) the network traffic type is classified using the priority value in the VLAN tag of the Ethernet frame. The priority value is the Priority Code Point (PCP), which is described in the IEEE 802.1Q specification and uses a 3-bit field in the VLAN tag with eight possible priority values (0 to 7).

Priority-based Flow Control (PFC) allows to individually pause priorities of tagged traffic and helps to provide lossless or “no drop” behavior for a certain priority at the receiving port. As  above, each frame transmitted by a sending port is tagged with a priority value (0 to 7) in the VLAN tag. So for the traffic pause and resume functionality to work we need a VLAN tag to carry the priority value.

Does It Work Without?

But you’ll tell me that, as you may be lacking a DCB capable switch for lab purposes, you used a direct cable between your two RoCE NICs. And guess what RoCE, might have indeed worked for you without a VLAN tag. You can test & get a feel for what RoCE/RDMA can do for you with just the NICs. But as there is no switch involved you’re not using DCB for PFC/ETS and without that the need for the tagged VLAN isn’t there. Also see https://blog.workinghardinit.work/2013/05/03/smb-direct-roce-does-not-work-without-dcbpfc/.

So there you go. Design your RoCE/RDMA network based on DCB with PFC( and ETS) and not just on the tests with an direct cable or you might miss a few details that are quite important. Happy testing!