Transport Zones, Logical Switches, and Overlays! Oh, My!

Logical Switching

Everyone loves Logical Swtiching, right?! The ability to spin up a Layer 2 network whenever you need is pretty darned cool. Arguably, VXLAN is groovy, too, taking an L2 frame from a VM and wrapping it up in VXLAN goodness to shoot over the underlay network. So VMware left that alone, right?

Wrong. VXLAN is yesterday’s overlay protocol. The future is here with GENEVE.

GENEVE, you say? What in the world is GENEVE? GENEVE stands for GEneric NEtwork Virtualization Encapsulation, and is still being standardised. Wanna know more? Check is out here.

Let’s summarize the draft, shall we? Every other network virtualization overlay out there (VXLAN, NVGRE, etc.) is fixed. They all do one thing. Not to disparage any of the others – they do what they do very well. But the data center is not a fixed thing. It needs flexibility. It changes, it grows, it has to support new use cases. And that’s why GENEVE was born. See, GENEVE supports all the same stuff as everything else for network virtualization – taking that important L2 frame and wrapping it up in a new set of headers to send across the underlay “backplane” to the destination TEP (Tunnel End Point) so that delivery to the destination VM can occur. What makes GENEVE powerful, though, is extensibility through a proposed set of TLV options that can be set. Did I mention that the Options field in the GENEVE header is variable-length? So all manner of things could possibly be done.

From a day-to-day perspective, the difference between GENEVE and VXLAN is negligible. GENEVE uses UDP/6081, where we’re used to VXLAN using UDP/4789. The Tunnel Endpoints are referred to as “TEPs” or “Tunnel Endpoints” rather than “VTEPs” or “VXLAN Tunnel Endpoints”. Wireshark, as a packet analyzer example, already recognizes and understands GENEVE. So you just keep doing things the way you’ve been doing them. Except that now your logical networks can span both ESXi and KVM hypervisors. See, we’re growing.

In addition to the change in encapsulation protocol, NSX-T no longer has a dependency on the vSphere Distributed Switch. This does mean a couple of things, though.

First, we no longer have to worry about those crazy long vxw-dvs-83-virtualwire-7-sid-10007-transitNetwork kinda port group names. Logical Networks show up as simply the network name, though they do have a pretty new icon signifying that they’re opaque objects to vCenter (meaning that vCenter really can’t do anything with them, but it knows they exist).

Second, KVM virtual machine attachment to a logical switch isn’t quite as easy as in vSphere. For those, we have to identify the UUID of the virtual NIC (hint: look at the VM’s XML file – “virsh dumpxml <VM domain>”, and look for “interfaceId”), and then create the Logical Port by attaching the VIF (Virtual Interface) in NSX Manager > Switching > Ports > Add, where we specify the VIF UUID we discovered. Not difficult, just a little tedious, and probably worth scripting if you’re adding a bunch of KVM virtual machines to a Logical Switch.

Finally, don’t chew up all of your physical uplinks – NSX needs a couple of them for the NSX vSwitch that’s installed when you promote the host to a Transport Node.  I have a story I’ll tell about that later in this series.

If you recall from NSX-V, a logical switch exists in the concept of a transport zone.  NSX-T has transport zones as well, and they do precisely the same thing – define a compute scope for our logical networks.  But they’re not exactly the same all around.

In NSX-T we have two different types of transport zone.  One for overlay networks, and another for VLAN-backed networks. In other words, I have the option to build VLAN-backed logical switches.  That sounds a bit crazy, if you ask me.  Why in the world would we want to do that?! Well, the big reason is northbound connectivity to physical routers from the Edge.  I know, we haven’t talked about the Edge yet (that’s coming really soon, now that we’re talking about things in the data plane), so I’ll keep this brief.  The Edge will be configured with one or more VLAN transport zones to connect to upstream VLANs.  I’ll use this analogy again, but it’s essentially like creating VLAN-backed port groups on an NSX vSwitch.

So there you have it, a quick summary of what’s different in Logical Switching.

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