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Feature Article
April 2003

Tony Rybczynski photo


Rethinking Campus Architecture


Critical elements in the design and operation of campus networks are the number of switching tiers required and the location and distribution of routing and intelligence. For our purpose, intelligence is functionality above and beyond Layer 2 switched and Layer 3 routed operation, that provides a broad range of functionality including security with user authentication VLAN management, traffic management (including QoS and multicast support), and content-aware services for server optimization. While there are exceptions, most enterprises do not really care whether the network is two- or three-tier, where routing is deployed, and how intelligence is deployed. What they care about is meeting performance requirements for converged networking at the lowest possible total cost of ownership. Here we look at rethinking campus architectures with the objectives of overall simplification leveraging technology advances.

What do we mean by performance in the context of campus networks? Generally, performance implies consistently, reliably, and securely providing the connectivity, bandwidth and delay required by applications. Low-delay, high-bandwidth connectivity can be very cost effectively provided across any campus network. While QoS is arguably not required for communications within the campus, QoS handling is definitely required as part of an end-to-end architecture and within a design principle of minimizing consumption of the end-to-end delay budget (e.g., 150msec for IP telephony). Security mechanisms are critically important to protect IT resources and control application accessibility. The most demanding requirement is for very high reliability to support mission-critical applications including real-time voice and multimedia. The traditional benchmark is five 9�s reliability though enterprises recognize that a cost-benefit analysis is required to determine how close to this benchmark they can come. While traditional data packet reliability is achieved through dynamic routing around failures and TCP retransmissions, these do not work for real-time applications such as voice. A key requirement, therefore, in moving towards this reliability objective is sub-second recovery from failures.

The Lay of the Campus LAN
A major influencing factor is the physical wiring plant distribution. All LANs are based on wiring closets located within 100 meters of desktops, this limit imposed by Ethernet over copper wiring standards. Some buildings have three-tier wiring schemes with wiring closets, Intermediate Distribution Frames (e.g., per floor) and centralized MDFs. The use of limited distance multimode fiber (100Base-FX 2Km maximum reach over Multi Mode Fiber) and/or highly distributed campuses like military bases can also impose a three-tier networking architecture. That said, the general case is that wiring closets are fiber-connected to a main distribution frame, from a physical two-tier architecture.
At the Layer 2 and 3 networking level, a common approach for wired campus networks is a 3-tier architecture consisting of a wiring closet edge tier, an aggregation (a.k.a. distribution) tier and a core tier, even if the physical wiring is two-tier. In the latter case the aggregation tier is co-located in the wiring closet. While in some cases, a two-tier architecture is targeted, a three-tier architecture emerges over time as vendors try to meet customer requirements. The edge tier consists of Ethernet switches and some hubs, but it is universally agreed that switched Ethernet with standard power of Ethernet is a firm requirement for IP telephony.
Where to put routing and service intelligence is likewise varied. Some sophisticated customers believe that IP routing belongs at all points, arguing that they require a higher degree of control and have the expertise to manage this environment. Others want to contain IP routing to the core and are therefore looking to Layer 2 functionality elsewhere to address performance requirements. In some cases, given vendor biases and/or product limitations, these same customers end up with routing in the wiring closet as a �simplification� compared to per-VLAN spanning tree and as a way of utilizing resources that are otherwise only used under failure conditions. At the same time, intelligence is being added to the edge tier to meet security needs and IP telephony and other application performance needs.
So what�s the ideal architecture for most enterprises? One that meets performance requirements in the simplest way thus exhibiting the lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). There are two key parameters: the number of tiers and the distribution of routing and intelligence.

Campus Simplification #1: Two Tiers If You Can � Three If You Must
The three-tier networking architecture developed in the early 1990�s, providing a common solution for both two- and three-tier physical wiring infrastructures. This architecture met the prevalent traffic patterns at the time, ones dominated by workgroup and departmental communities of interest. It also developed because of limitations of both the capacity of wiring closet devices (12 or 24 ports per device without resilient stacking) and the capacity of uplinks (often 100Mbps). Simply, the aggregation tier was required to provide needed fan-out and port concentration between the edge tier and the core. IP routing was constrained to the core, while the edge and aggregation tiers operated predominantly at Layer 2.
What has changed? Firstly, the vast majority of the traffic now goes to the core of the network, across the WAN and into the Internet. For example, going to a local printer actually consists of going through a centralized print server. Even the advent of peer-to-peer traffic, including IP telephony, does not change this, as it is generally not within the community of interest of a single wiring closet. Secondly, modular and resilient stackable architectures with capacities in the hundreds of Gbps, multiple Gbps of uplink capacity (evolving to 10 Gbps), and extremely high-capacity core switches now represent the state-of-the-art in campus technologies. Thirdly, the requirements have evolved for QoS-based networking, increased reliability, and tighter security.
These changes, together with the ongoing pressures to do more with less, contribute to an opportunity to evolve the network to meet new requirements, while simplifying it by eliminating the aggregation tier completely, unless required because of physical wiring constraints. For large, multiple building networks, multiple core switches can be mesh interconnected via a simple and fast transport network; for example, one using 1/10 Gbps links potentially over Coarse or Dense Wave Multiplexing (CWDM/DWDM). In very large campus networks, Ethernet switching could be introduced as a way of providing more effective core switch interconnection, creating a third fast transport tier � but this is an exception.
In financial terms, the typical network equipment cost per user is currently $150 at the edge level, $60 at the aggregation level, and $40 at the core level. Eliminating the aggregation tier can upfront eliminate approximately a quarter of the initial cost and significantly decrease the TCO, given the need to engineer, configure, and operate multiple devices at this level of the network. Eliminating the aggregation tier not only results in simplification, but also provides a higher reliability network at no additional cost.
Since there is a perception that the aggregation tier increases network reliability, how is reliability enhanced? It starts with reliable node design at both the edge and core levels: redundant power and cooling, hot swappability, failsafe stackability, and load shared dual active core switching fabrics. Interconnection between the edge and the core and among core switches uses MultiLink Trunking (known as the Ethernet link aggregation IEEE 802.2ad standard), whereby traffic is distributed across multiple links; when a link failure is detected, the traffic is distributed in sub-second speeds across the remaining links following the established traffic management policy. Key advantages of MLT are that failures are handled without impacting TCP/IP operation and voice calls, and that it makes it easy to add additional links as required to meet traffic demands. Two important vendor-specific enhancements are available at Layer 2. Distributed MLT allows the links to be terminated on different blades in a switch. Split MLT is a further extension and allows the uplinks to home on two core switches, while supporting full load balancing across these links. Split MLT eliminates the need for spanning tree, with its notorious slow recovery after failures. Fast spanning tree, defined in IEEE802.1w, can provide sub-second recovery from failure, but has the characteristic that the backup path (i.e., links and switches) are idle, except after failures, resulting in a very poor utilization of network resources. To partially address this problem, some vendors suggest running multiple spanning trees, with users manually assigned to each (e.g., using a feature called Per VLAN Spanning Tree). This is effectively manual load balancing and is very management intensive.
Now, let�s look at how routing and intelligence should be distributed to meet performance, functionality and reliability requirements, while providing lowest TCO.

Campus Simplification #2: Centralize Routing and Distribute Service Intelligence
For campus infrastructures, the relationship between devices, the location of routing and the amount of intelligence is critical to building networks that minimize TCO and meet performance objectives. Devices in the core of the network tend to be more expensive, but the cost is amortized over all or many users. Devices at the edge of network are less expensive, but cost there is associated directly with each user. To reduce the TCO of the network, edge switches should only have that intelligence that needs to be close to the user, and target the lowest cost per user. Complexity and intelligence not critical to the edge should be in the core switch.
The functions in the edge switch should be restricted to two major areas: user security, and QoS and traffic management. Security defines the ability to authenticate and control user access to network resources, including standards such as IEEE802.1x for user authentication and IEEE802.11Q for user segmentation via Virtual LANs or VLANs (e.g., separating wired and wireless users, telephony and PC users, and user and network management). QoS provides flow policing to assure that the flows are properly classified and controlled, and includes flow classification, required for legacy applications that do not provide DiffServ marking, and for traffic flows received over untrusted ports. Traffic management includes multicast spoofing to participate in multicast networking without having to support multicast routing protocols. These functions include Layer 2, 3, and 4 services (i.e., processing packets based on information in the L2�4 packet headers) Layer 3 services are not the same as Layer 3 dynamic routing, since technologies such as Split MLT provide high reliability, and high bandwidth and switch utilization. Scott Bradner of Harvard University noted that there are 10,258 lines in index alone of the Cisco basic router manual and that no new release is without 100 new commands. Why would one deploy routing in the edge tier if all requirements can be met through Layer 2 switching and embedded L3�4 service intelligence?
The core switch tier provides Layer 3 switching (including IP and potentially IPX, SNA and other legacy protocols), dynamic routing (e.g., RIP, OSPF, BGP), multicast networking (e.g., DVMRP, PIM-SSM, PGM, IGMP), policy-based security, core QoS and bandwidth management, and interfacing into policy servers and network management systems. A range of high-speed MAN and WAN interfaces (e.g., ATM, FR, PPP, POS). If servers are connected directly to the core switches, content-aware functionality is provided to include application switching, content caching, load balancing and SSL acceleration. The number of acronyms in the above list illustrates the depth of knowledge required to plan, engineer, and operate the core switching tier consisting of a handful of high-performance switches located in a handful of controlled telecom and computing facilities. It also illustrates the TCO value of minimizing the functions in the edge tier distributed across potentially hundreds of wiring closets in a large campus.

Two-tier campus architecture with security and traffic management services at the edge and L3 routing and networking and service capabilities in the core meet the performance requirements of campus networks, including the reliability requirements of even the most stringent enterprise. They are not for everyone, but in general are simple, minimize the number of devices, and centralize intelligence, and therefore significantly reduce the TCO of most of today�s network. This campus architectures provide a high-performance converged network that can reliably support existing and new data voice, video and multimedia applications. c

Tony Rybczynski is Director of Strategic Enterprise Technologies in Nortel Networks. He has over 30 years experience in the application of packet network technology. Phil Edholm is Chief Technologist and VP Enterprise Network Architecture in Nortel Networks. For more information, please visit the company online at www.nortelnetworks.com.


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