Vyatta 5400 and interface inbound discards

Recently I was investigating alerts that were being generated for inbound interface discards on multiple interfaces and multiple Vyatta 5400 devices. There were not any noticeable performance issues on traffic passing through the devices. The discards would report in SNMP, show interface ethernet ethX, and ifconfig outputs. An example show interface ethernet ethX output I was reviewing is below.

vyatta@FW01:~$ sh int ethernet eth0
eth0: <BROADCAST,MULTICAST,UP,LOWER_UP> mtu 1500 qdisc pfifo_fast state UNKNOWN qlen 1000
link/ether 00:50:56:x:x:x brd ff:ff:ff:ff:ff:ff
inet 172.x.x.x/24 brd 172.x.x.x scope global eth0
inet6 fe80::250:56ff:x:x/64 scope link
valid_lft forever preferred_lft forever
Last clear: Wed Oct 29 10:55:13 GMT 2014
Description: MGMT
RX: bytes packets errors dropped overrun mcast
   242863    3664      0     163       0     0
TX: bytes packets errors dropped carrier collisions
   128065     701      0       0       0          0

I was not finding any other statistics that would match up with the quantity of discards being reported. Here are a few of the commands I looked at to look for matching discard counters.

vyatta@FW01:~$ sh int ethernet eth0 queue
vyatta@FW01:~$ sh int ethernet eth0 statistics
vyatta@FW01:~$ sh queueing
vyatta@FW01:~$ sudo netstat -s

While researching where to go next I was reminded that the Vyatta 5400 is at it’s heart a Linux device server. I found a few references that beginning in the Linux kernel version 2.6.36 there were more error conditions added to this counter in the kernel.

The rx_dropped counter shows statistics for dropped frames because of: (Beginning with kernel 2.6.37)
Softnet backlog full — (Measured from /proc/net/softnet_stat)
Bad / Unintended VLAN tags
Unknown / Unregistered protocols
IPv6 frames when the server is not configured for IPv6
If any frames meet those conditions, they are dropped before the protocol stack and the rx_dropped counter is incremented.

via http://www.novell.com/support/kb/doc.php?id=7007165

When taking a look I found that the version of Vyatta code in use contains the Linux kernel version 3.3.8. The only way to verify if these conditions are causing the counter to increment is to put the interface into promiscuous mode. Since this was a production system I instead looked for neighboring Linux systems in the same subnet, and found they do not report the same level of discards. It appears I found my the reason behind this counter incrementing. This issue looked more urgent as we measure this counter in percentage of packets discarded and this interface does not have much traffic flowing through it. This made the percentages very high which the discarded frames where non-production impacting frames. This issue was a reminder that it is good to remember the underlying Operating System even if it is masked by a custom CLI.

A meditation on the interface discard counter

I find the interface discard counter a deceptively complex counter. When you ask people what the counter means the usual answer is that you are over running the throughput capability of an interface. Which matched pretty closely to the definition in the IF-MIB SNMP MIB.

The number of inbound packets which were chosen
to be discarded even though no errors had been
detected to prevent their being deliverable to a
higher-layer protocol.  One possible reason for
discarding such a packet could be to free up
buffer space.

ifInDiscards : https://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1213.txt

The description from the MIB is often the cause of this counter incrementing, however as devices get more powerful and circuits keep increasing in size, this description is becoming less applicable. There are many other issues that have been lumped into this counter, all of these other issues are vendor, platform, and configuration dependent. Some examples I have found are,

  • ASA Dispatch Unit CPU over utilization
  • ASA ACL/ASP packet drops
  • QoS on an IOS interface can cause an elevated (purposeful) number of frames dropped
  • An ASIC shared between ports on a switch is being over utilized
  • L2/L3 packet handling on some Linux kernels and some virtual network platforms

Looking at this list the interface discard counter starts to look more like a check engine light for a device or interface. As with the check engine light it is important to understand all of the that data your devices are presenting, and build good baselines of the statistics for your system. Ethan Banks has some good thoughts on data baselines in a post titled The Importance of Knowing Baselines.

Nexus 7000 and a systematic Bug

I have been thinking about an old issue that a customer encountered with an pair of Nexus 7000 switches about a year and half ago. When the issue first came onto my radar it was in a bad place, this customer had Nexus 2000 Fabric Extenders that would go offline and eventually the Nexus 7000 would go offline causing some single homed devices to be come in reachable, and in the process broader reachability issues. This is occurred intermittently which always causes data collection to be complicated. After working with TAC and finally collecting all of the information the the summary of the multiple causes came down the these 5 items.

1. Fabric extender link become error disabled due to CSCtz01813
2. Nexus is reloaded to recover from Fabric Extender issue.
3. After reload ports get stuck in INIT state due to CSCty8102 and failed to come online.
4. Peer Link, Peer Keep-Alive and VPCs fail to come online since ports are err-disabled from sequence time out.
5. VPC would go into a split brain state causing SVIs to go into shutdown mode.
6. Network connectivity is lost until reload of module and ports are brought online.

The summary is two bugs that would get triggered at random times causing a firestorm of confusing outages. The two temporary work arounds to mitigate the problem before we could upgrade the code on the switches was to,

  1. VPC keep alive link to Admin port on Supervisor.
  2. Use EEM script to reset a register when a module comes on line.

When thinking about what occurred it is important to remember the Nexus 7000 platform consists of many line cards that each contain an independent “brain” (Forwarding Engine(s) and supporting systems on the line cards) that are connected and orchestrated by the Supervisor module. It is true previous statement was a bit of a simplification, however I find it enigmatic of some of the design challenges you can on the Nexus 7000 platform. For example there are many limitations with Layer 3 routing features and VPC. In the example above it could be said that this sort of complexity can cause safety features such as those build into VPC to cause more harm then good when they encounter an in planned failure scenario. This is different from the Catalyst platform where (for the most part) everything is processed through an central processor.

Over all the Nexus 7000 system design allows for tightly coupled interactions between the modules, supervisors and even more loosely coupled interactions between chassises. These interactions can allow for the high speed and throughput that can be delivered, however is adds to the complexity of troubleshooting and complex designs. In the end what makes this issue so interesting to me and and why I keep mentally revisiting it is that it is an example of a system failure. Every single cause if occurred individually would have been as greatly problematic but their interactions together caused the observed issue to be many times worse.

Some great Nexus 7000 references

My First OpenDaylight

Over the last few days I’ve started to the play with the OpenDaylight Test VM Image. This image is was easy to get up and running and have a playground with mininet and a pre-baked OpenDaylight (ODL) controller to play with. After deploying the OVA file in Virtualbox poking around the file system I got down to “business” with getting a test topology in place. I made some changes to initial mininet configuration startup file to make the topology more complex and changing the startup command to look like the following,

sudo mn --controller 'remote,ip=,port=6633' --topo tree,3

This yielded a 8 hosts and 7 switches topology. At one point I have 63 hosts and some number of switches things broke pretty hard so I dialed it back a little bit. I want over to the webui for the controller and after some fiddling Names and Tiers on the switches. My test topology in the ODL console is show in the following screenshot.

ODL Home

I also had full reachability from all of the mininet hosts.

mininet> pingall
*** Ping: testing ping reachability
h1 > h2 h3 h4 h5 h6 h7 h8
h2 > h1 h3 h4 h5 h6 h7 h8
h3 > h1 h2 h4 h5 h6 h7 h8
h4 > h1 h2 h3 h5 h6 h7 h8
h5 > h1 h2 h3 h4 h6 h7 h8
h6 > h1 h2 h3 h4 h5 h7 h8
h7 > h1 h2 h3 h4 h5 h6 h8
h8 > h1 h2 h3 h4 h5 h6 h7
*** Results: 0% dropped (56/56 received)

Now that I had things working it was time to find ways to break it. Diving into the flow rules I threw together a basic Drop rule on one of the transit links.

Flow Rule Split Network

As expected the network was split into two.

mininet> pingall
*** Ping: testing ping reachability
h1 > h2 h3 h4 X X X X
h2 > h1 h3 h4 X X X X
h3 > h1 h2 h4 X X X X
h4 > h1 h2 h3 X X X X
h5 > X X X X h6 h7 h8
h6 > X X X X h5 h7 h8
h7 > X X X X h5 h6 h8
h8 > X X X X h5 h6 h7
*** Results: 57% dropped (24/56 received)

Lets see about black holing a single host now.

Drop H1 This drops all traffic from the host connected to port 1 on the switch which happens to be h1

mininet> pingall
*** Ping: testing ping reachability
h1 > X X X X X X X
h2 > X h3 h4 h5 h6 h7 h8
h3 > X h2 h4 h5 h6 h7 h8
h4 > X h2 h3 h5 h6 h7 h8
h5 > X h2 h3 h4 h6 h7 h8
h6 > X h2 h3 h4 h5 h7 h8
h7 > X h2 h3 h4 h5 h6 h8
h8 > X h2 h3 h4 h5 h6 h7
*** Results: 25% dropped (42/56 received)

OpenDaylight has always peaked my interested, I’ve been trying to follow the mailing lists and some of the discussions out there and the Test VM is a nice way to start to get under the hood. I have a lot more to learn and there are a ton of other plugins to start to explore. Not to mention to start to think about the API and writing some code against it.


  1. If you do not set switch roles properly end hosts my not show up on the topology.

  2. Flow rule names can not have spaces in them.

  3. The controller had the Access switches properly classified in the Tier however the transit switches were not set to either Distribution or Core.

IBM PURE systems networking

To start off I’ll cut past some of the marketing and state that PURE Systems are IBM BladeCenters with some predefined hardware configurations that support both x86 and POWER work loads.

With that being said the advantage to the PURE architecture is the software that IBM has assembled to orchestrate deployments of workloads across all of the integrated platforms. The orchestrator is named Flex System Manager (FSM). The FSM plugs into VMWare for x86, HMC for Power systems and other management system for virtualization platforms. The FSM will use these connections to automate deployment of systems and monitoring of the hardware, physical and virtual systems within the PURE System.

There are many details about the hardware I will not cover but one of the details IBM discusses is the increased speeds and feeds. This is accomplished by interconnections between the Nodes and the I/O Bays, each Node has multiple connection to the I/O Bays. The number of paths grow or shrink by the number of licenses, or as IBM says Pay as you Grow.

IBM Blade to IOM connectivity


Image copied from (http://www.redbooks.ibm.com/abstracts/tips0864.html)

The portfolio of IO Modules is similar to any BladeCenter you may have seen in the past, with options for in Network Switches (BNT Switches, some supporting OpenFlow 1.0), Fiber Channel switches and passthrough modules (All the options can be found here: http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/flex/networking/).

Where I see the need for great improvement is the POWER Series networking. POWER utilizes a Virtual IO Server (VIOS) to connect the LPARs to each other and the outside world. Essentially the VIOS is a AIX server that acts as a layer 2 bridge. The VIOS lacks the ability most network switches have had to do private VLAN configurations and layer 3 inspection. There also currently is no support at this time for next generation such as OpenFlow, IBM DOVE, or VXLAN.

IBM PURE Block Diagram


This brings many complications in a multi-hypervisor environment. For example locating an IBM LPAR next to a VMWare workload you will need glue it together with VLANs and legacy networking. This will require networking teams maintain network controls separately from how you may treat the rest of your virtualized work loads on the VMWare platform.

Even though I have a bit of a beef with the VIOS, the PURE system is a good approach for IBM shops to consolidate their workloads into a single Private Cloud style configuration.