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The Delicate Art of VIOS Configuration

November 02, 2010

What's the quickest way to get to know your network team? Just bring down the entire network.

I actually know of people who have caused network outages by misconfiguring dual VIOS. However, this isn't another of my scary stories--I just want to tell you how to avoid stirring up your own broadcast network storm.

Start with this sample example:

mkvdev -sea ent0 -vadapter ent2 -default ent2 -defaultid 2 -attr ha_mode=auto ctl_chan=ent1

When you run this command, make sure that each VIOS is set up to use the same control channel VLAN (ent1 in this case). If not, the two servers will be unable to communicate with one another. And if that happens, each will respond as if the other VIOS is down, and each will attempt to function as the primary server.

From IBM Support:

"A Shared Ethernet Adapter (SEA) can be used to connect a physical network to a virtual Ethernet network. It provides the ability for several client partitions to share one physical adapter. SEA can only be configured on the Virtual I/O Server (VIOS) and requires the POWER Hypervisor and Advanced POWER Virtualization feature. The SEA, hosted on the VIOS, acts as a Layer-2 bridge between the internal and external network.

"One SEA on one VIOS acts as the primary (active) adapter and the second SEA on the second VIOS acts as a backup (standby) adapter. Each SEA must have at least one virtual Ethernet adapter with the
'Access external network' flag (previously known as trunk flag) checked. This enables the SEA to provide bridging functionality between the two VIO servers.

"This adapter on both the SEAs has the same PVID, but will have a different priority value. A SEA in ha_mode (Failover mode) might have more than one trunk adapters, in which case all should have the same priority value. The priority value defines which of the two SEAs will be the primary and which will be the backup. The lower the priority value, the higher the priority -- e.g. an adapter with priority 1 will have the highest priority. An additional virtual Ethernet adapter, which belongs to a unique VLAN on the system, is used to create the control channel between the SEAs, and must be specified in each SEA when configured in ha_mode. The purpose of this control channel is to communicate between the two SEA adapters to determine when a failover should take place."

In other words: When setting up VIOS, you must set up a control channel so that the two servers can communicate with one another. You also need to establish one VIOS as the primary server and the other as the backup.

This document states the consequences of misconfiguring your SEAs:

"In this section, you will create the control channel virtual Ethernet adapters on VIOS1 and VIOS2, which will communicate on VLAN ID 12. It is very important to create this adapter on both VIOS partitions before creating SEA adapters to support failover for the same VLAN. Failing to have proper control channel configuration can result in causing a broadcast storm when both SEA adapters are activated on the same VLAN (VLAN ID 2 in this case).

"First you will create the control channel adapters on each VIOS partition. These control channel adapters are used to determine the health of the SEAs and are required to avoid a broadcast storm (which can result when two trunking virtual adapters are available on the same VLAN)."

In another part of this document, we read:

"Failing to have proper control channel configuration can result in causing a broadcast storm when both SEA adapters are activated on the same VLAN (VLAN ID 2 in this case)."

And again:

"When you run the mkvdev -sea command, it is very important that you specify the ha_mode and ctl_chan attributes. If you fail to do this, creation of the primary adapter on VIOS2 could result in a network broadcast storm."

And again:

"STOP!!! Before you continue to the next step, ask a lab instructor to determine that you have the correct adapter configuration. Failure to properly configure an SEA failover scenario can result in a broadcast storm than can affect the entire lab network."

A network guy I know recommends enabling BPDU on our Cisco switches to try to address this issue. This website seems to agree with that assessment:

"As a precaution, you can enable Bridge Protocol Data Unit (BPDU) Guard on the switch ports connected to the physical adapters of the SEA. BPDU Guard detects looped Spanning Tree Protocol BPDU packets and shuts down the port. This helps prevent broadcast storms on the network."

Maybe some networking gurus out there can let us know whether using BPDU is advisable on our VIOS-connected ports.

Even those of us who routinely work with VIOS shouldn't get cocky, because one wrong move can take out a network. So be careful. The stakes are high.

Posted November 02, 2010 | Permalink

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