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Rethinking the Network

Marten Terpstra

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Top Stories by Marten Terpstra

In traditional networks, MAC addresses are inserted into tables using standard learning techniques.  When packets arrive, if the source MAC address is not known, it is added to the MAC forwarding table for that VLAN with the ingress interface as its destination. If the destination is unknown, the packet is flooded through the VLAN, with the side effect that each switch along the way inserts the source MAC address in its own forwarding table for that VLAN. Assuming the destination actually exists, one of the flooded copies will reach its destination. The device at the destination MAC address receives the packet, and (hopefully) responds. The response is destined for the device that sent the original packet, for which each switch has learned how to get to from the flooded packet. The packet makes it way back to the original source with the side effect of the source of... (more)

What SDN Can Do for Multicast Topologies

IP Multicast is one of those technologies that most everyone loves to hate. It’s almost the perfect example of how complicated we have made networking. Getting IP Multicast to run depends on several protocols that are all somewhat intertwined or dependent on each, their relationship sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit. Even trying to describe the basic operation is complicated. When an application or service provides information using IP multicast, it simply starts sending it onto a specific multicast group. The multicast router for the subnet of the sender sees the incoming m... (more)

Attention: Overlay Tunnel Construction Ahead

A while ago I wrote a few articles describing the various tunnel protocols used for network virtualization between vSwitches on servers, and between vSwitches and physical network gateways. These are the mechanisms that construct overlay networks on top of a physical network. VMWare uses STT as the tunneling mechanism between vSwitches on servers and VXLAN to communicate with gateways to the non virtualized world. NVGRE is used mostly by Microsoft, and is an extension to GRE tunneling that has been around for a while. Each one of these mechanisms have their pros and cons. They ... (more)

Traffic Advisory: Your Packets May Be Delayed

The past few years have seen a dramatic improvement in the latency in network switches. Single ASIC based switches can all pretty much switch packets in less than a microsecond. Current 10GE switching silicon provides anywhere from 300 to 800 nanoseconds, specialized silicon shaves that to less than 200 nanoseconds when limiting the amount of searching that needs to be done by reducing the size of lookup tables. Even other solutions play some smart tricks by providing forwarding hints for intermediate switches make those lookups take less than 50 nanoseconds. Modular switches i... (more)

Overlay Entropy

There have been many articles describing overlay networks in the past few quarters. It's a relatively straightforward concept, not far removed from some of the older VPN technologies very popular a while ago. The actual transport of packets is probably the simplest, it is the control plane that is much harder to construct and therefore explain. It is therefore also that the control plane in overlay networks has seen the most innovation and change, and is likely to change some more in standard and proprietary ways in the next little while. A perfect example is the use of IP Multic... (more)