There, I said it. In switching, just like in real life, being independent often beats the alternatives. In switching that would mean stacking. Windows Server 2012 NIC teaming in Independent mode, active-active mode makes this possible. And if you do want or need stacking for link aggregation (i.e. more bandwidth) you might go the extra mile and opt for vPC (Virtual Port Channel a la CISCO) or VTL (Virtual Link Trunking a la Force10 – DELL).
What, have you gone nuts? Nope. Windows Server 2012 NIC teaming gives us great redundancy with even cheaper 10Gbps switches.
What I hate about stacking is that during a firmware upgrade they go down, no redundancy there. Also on the cheaper switches it often costs a lot of 10Gbps ports (no dedicated stacking ports). The only way to work around this is by designing your infrastructure so you can evacuate the nodes in that rack so when the stack is upgraded it doesn’t affect the services. That’s nice if you can do this but also rather labor intensive. If you can’t evacuate a rack (which has effectively become your “unit of upgrade”) and you can’t afford the vPort of VTL kind of redundant switch configuration you might be better of running your 10Gbps switches independently and leverage Windows Server 2012 NIC teaming in a switch independent mode in active active. The only reason no to so would be the need for bandwidth aggregation in all possible scenarios that only LACP/Static Teaming can provide but in that case I really prefer vPC or VLT.
Independent 10Gbps Switches
Cheaper 10Gbps switches
No potential loss of 10Gbps ports for stacking
Switch redundancy in all scenarios if clusters networking set up correctly
Switch configuration is very simple
You won’t get > 10 Gbps aggregated bandwidth in any possible NIC teaming scenario
Stacked 10Gbps Switches
Stacking is available with cheaper 10Gbps switches (often a an 10Gbps port cost)
Switch redundancy (but not during firmware upgrades)
Get 20Gbps aggregated bandwidth in any scenario
Potential loss of 10Gbps ports
Firmware upgrades bring down the stack
Potentially more ‘”complex” switch configuration
vPC or VLT 10Gbps Switches
100% Switch redundancy
Get > 10Gbps aggregated bandwidth in any possible NIC team scenario
More expensive switches
More ‘”complex” switch configuration
So all in all, if you come to the conclusion that 10Gbps is a big pipe that will serve your needs and aggregation of those via teaming is not needed you might be better off with cheaper 10Gbps leverage Windows Server 2012 NIC teaming in a switch independent mode in active active configuration. You optimize 10Gbps port count as well. It’s cheap, it reduces complexity and it doesn’t stop you from leveraging Multichannel/RDMA.
So right now I’m either in favor of switch independent 10Gbps networking or I go full out for a vPC (Virtual Port Channel a la CISCO) or VTL (Virtual Link Trunking a la Force10 – DELL) like setup and forgo stacking all together. As said if you’re willing/capable of evacuating all the nodes on a stack/rack you can work around the drawback. The colors in the racks indicate the same clusters. That’s not always possible and while it sounds like a great idea, I’m not convinced.
When the shit hits the fan … you need as little to worry about as possible. And yes I know firmware upgrades are supposed to be easy and planned events. But then there is reality and sometimes it bites, especially when you cannot evacuate the workload until you’re resolved a networking issue with a firmware upgrade Choose your poison wisely.
A colleague pointed me the latest firmware update (126.96.36.199) for the DELL PowerConnect 8024F switches. As I was reading the release notes one item in particular caught my attention. The PowerConnect 8024/8024f/M8024-k switches are now stackable. You can put up to 6 switches in one stack using the regular front ports (SFP+). You might remember form a previous blog post on 10Gbps, Introducing 10Gbps With A Dedicated CSV & Live Migration Network (Part 2/4), where I mentioned that we got a great deal on those switches. I also mentioned that the only thing lacking in these switches and what would make this the best 10Gbps switch when comparing value for money is the ability to stack them. I quote myself:
“They could make that 8024F an unbeatable price/quality deal if they would make them stackable.”
I’ve been called visionary before but I won’t go into that that insider joke right now . Now it’s for sure that not just my little blog post that made this update happen but it is a nice New Year’s gift. More features & options with hardware you already own is always nice. So I guess a lot of people have made the same observation, both customers & DELL themselves. You could just “smell” by the available command & configuration that this switch could be made stackable and they did.
Is Ethernet based stacking perfect? No (there is very little perfection in this world). The biggest drawback, if you need that feature, is the fact that you can hot plug the stacking links. But for all other practical purposes it’s a nice deal. Why? Well, now that these switches supports Ethernet based stacking you will be able to choose more types of NIC Teaming to use for your servers. That means those teaming configurations that are dependent on stacking, such as for active-active NIC Teaming across two switches to be more precise. I find this pretty good news.
You all know I’m very enthusiastic to use the NIC Teaming build into Windows 8 and I will use it where and when I can. But there will be for many years to come a lot of Windows 2008 R2 systems to support and install. So it’s always good to see your hardware vendors improving their gear to give you more options. For the pricing I got on the 8024F in the last project and the needs of the solution we could deal with not being able to stack. Stacking via Ethernet using other switches was way more expensive, not even to mention the ones using stacking module ones (real premium pricing). So we got the best deal for our needs.
For 10Gbps switches stacking over Ethernet give you up to 80Gbps with a maximum of 8 uplinks so bandwidth is not as much a concern. With 1Gbps switches it is, which makes stacking modules the only way to go there I think. If you need massive bandwidth and you probably do. The drawback, as with all forms of inter switch links (a LAG for example) is that this method means you’re losing ports for other purposes. But you need to look at your needs and do the math. I think buying with investment protection is good but don’t always buy in preparation for the time you’ll become a fortune 500 company. That takes a while and in the mean while you’ll be very well served anyway.
Another related feature that’s new is Nonstop Forwarding (NSF). NSF allows the forwarding plane of stack units to continue forwarding packets even while the control and management planes restart. This could be a power failure, some hardware of software error or even an upgrade. This feature is common to all stackable switches as far as I know and is needed. Not that ‘m saying the redundant loop in stack is bad or overkill, far from it, but that takes care of other scenarios that NSF is designed to handle.