Evolution of networking toward fabric
Cisco SD-Access overview
Existing network design
Reference network design for upgrade
Use new IP subnets optimized for SD-Access
Connecting the first fabric border/control plane and fabric edge switch
Service interworking with SD-Access
Over the past few years the digitization wave has gained more and more momentum throughout all industry sectors. Digital disruption now has the potential to overrun incumbents and redefine markets faster than perhaps any force in history.
Cisco® Software-Defined Access (SD-Access) is designed to meet the requirements for an agile and secure enterprise. The design philosophy behind Cisco SD-Access architecture centers on the concept of policy-based automation, thereby provisioning the network infrastructure with secure user and device segmentation independent of media connectivity (wired or wireless users).
Automation and simplicity results in productivity increase which will enable customers’ IT to innovate early and be an industry leader in transforming to a digital enterprise providing the consumers the ability to achieve operational effectiveness. A consistent segmentation framework aligned with the customer’s business policy irrespective of transport medium (wired/wireless) is a key requirement for achieving effectiveness at the core. The following sections explain the tenets of Cisco SD-Access which includes the terminology, components and scale.
In summary, Cisco SD-Access offers the following technology benefits:
● Simplified operations: The ability to stretch IP subnets simplifies the overall network design and as all configuration is done on the fabric edge and border nodes, there is no hop-by-hop configuration required.
● Automation: The deployment can be done through tools provided by Cisco DNA Center, eliminating the need for a Command-Line Interface (CLI) or CLI configuration templates.
● Agility: Network operations can be done in a more agile manner now to meet the business requirements by reducing the amount and number of manual configuration steps – for example, securely onboarding new sensors and IoT-type devices that join the network.
● Security: Embedded security and segmentation via Virtual Networks (VNs) (which are Virtual Routing and Forwarding instances) and user groups (Scalable Group Tag/Segment ID). It also provides macro-segmentation with VNs and micro-segmentation within a VN via Group Tags.
● Consistent policies for wired and wireless: Extends segmentation, visibility, and policy of the wired network to wireless. Distributed wireless termination helps scale the wireless network throughput while providing centralized management and troubleshooting location.
● Support for business analytics: Will provide analytics and other telemetry information aggregated into a single platform to make business decisions and plan growth or diversification.
Evolution of networking toward fabric
Cisco DNA builds an enterprise fabric that can be programmed to provide end-to-end connectivity between users, devices, branches, and data centers. The enterprise fabric is built on the traditional network using standards-based overlay technologies that are managed by Cisco DNA Center, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Cisco SD-Access architecture
Today the IT group maintains a wide range of assets, including critical databases, vital company employee and customer information, classified commercial information, shared drives, email and web servers among many other things. Any IT organization today will benefit from the following:
● Identity-based segmentation and policy: SD-Access decouples security policy definition from VLAN and IP Address to enable rapid policy updates.
● Automated network fabric: SD-Access provides automation across wired and wireless that results in being able to optimize resource utilization as well as traffic flows in addition to being able to move away from device by device automation techniques to workflow-based simplified management. This results in being able to maintain consistency at scale.
● Insights and telemetry: SD-Access leverages Insights and Analytics into User and Application Behavior for proactive issue identification and resolution.
● Policy convergence between wired and wireless
● Flexible authentication options for user, device, and things including 802.1X, Active Directory, and static authentication.
● Better positioned for increased cloud usage via WAN and internet; acceleration/optimization for cloud
Cisco SD-Access overview
The Cisco SD-Access fabric leverages an efficient, and scalable transport network built according to Cisco best practices and recommendations. It provides any switch to any switch connectivity via standards based stateless tunnels. LISP and VXLAN are the underlying technologies used to build the Cisco SD-Access fabric, however these technologies are completely abstracted from the end-user.
Note: As this fabric is built on top a traditional network, it is normally referred to as an overlay network and the traditional network is referred as an underlay network.
The networking approach used to build the Cisco SD-Access fabric consists of a prescriptive physical underlay and a programmable overlay with segmentation constructs such as Virtual Network (VN) and groups. This new approach enables enterprise networks to transition from traditional VLAN-centric design architecture to a new user group-centric design architecture.
The following table defines the components used in the Cisco SD-Access fabric.
Table 1. Cisco SD-Access terminology
Fabric edge node
Edge nodes are responsible for authenticating (static, 802.1X, Active Directory) and registering endpoints (laptops, phones, wireless devices, etc.) with the control plane node.
Fabric intermediate node
Devices that are part of the Layer 3 that interconnects edge nodes and border nodes, labeled in red in Figure 3. They are responsible for routing the traffic within the fabric.
Fabric border node
These nodes are a gateway between the fabric domain and networks external to the fabric. They connect traditional Layer 3 networks or different fabric domains to the Cisco SD-Access fabric and also are responsible for translating context information from Cisco SD-Access fabric domain to another domain if it exists.
Control plane node (CP)
A database that tracks all endpoints in the fabric domain and maps them to respective fabric nodes. The control plane node enables the decoupling of the user/device from its identity (IP address).
A collection of network entities consisting of fabric edge nodes, intermediate nodes, and fabric border nodes along with its own control plane node. It can be limited to a geographical location, or one can have multiple fabric domains within a location, depending upon scale and performance.
A high-level segmentation concept to separate different users or devices connecting to the Cisco SD-Access and maps to a Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) instance in traditional networks.
Cisco DNA Center
An application that provides access to all the applications that help automate/orchestrate the network.
Identity Services Engine (ISE)
The platform where policy and segmentation (Scalable Group Tags) definitions are programmed using the Cisco DNA Center.
The transport network made up of the access switches, distribution switches, core routers, WAN, and data center interconnects. The end-to-end connectivity between the network elements in the underlay is provided by standard means including routing protocols. Refer to Figure 2.
The fabric forms the overlay network on top of the underlay network. In simple terms, it provides any-to-any switch connectivity via stateless tunnels. The addresses of endpoints are carried in the overlay network. The fabric provides unicast and multicast communications between endpoints and supports anycast gateway services for mobility.
Addresses assigned to the users and devices that connect to the downlink Ethernet ports of the access switches.
Logical topologies over the fabric
Cisco SD-Access comprises the roles shown in Figure 3 co-located on the same device or placed on different devices depending upon the scale requirements.
Roles of devic
es in Cisco SD-Access fabric
The fabric edge node provides Layer-3 Gateway services for IP subnets. The gateway IPv4/IPv6 addresses and gateway MAC are the same across all fabric edge nodes (anycast gateway). This enables the Cisco SD-Access Fabric to extend a single subnet across multiple sites. These are shown with the “FE within a circle” icon in Figure 3. Cisco SD-Access can also support topologies in which a traditional network with Spanning Tree can connect to the Cisco SD-Access Fabric.
These are considerations that need to be taken into account before beginning the upgrade of the existing network to Cisco SD-Access. These are categorized as follows:
● Network considerations: MTU, network topology, IP addressing for underlay and overlay, and location of shared services.
● Policy considerations: Existing policy definition and enforcement points, virtual network and Scalable Group Tags
● Hardware platform considerations: Switches, routers, WLCs, and access points that support SD-Access
● Software platform considerations: Cisco DNA Center, Identity Services Engine (ISE), Network Data Platform (NDP)
● Scale of deployment considerations: Scale of hardware platforms with respect to the role they play in the SD-Access solution architecture
● Existing network design: Layer 2 Access or Routed access
Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU)
MTU is defined as the largest network protocol data unit that can be transmitted in a single transaction. The higher the MTU the more efficient the network. The VXLAN encapsulation adds 50 bytes to the original packet. This can cause MTU to go above 1500 bytes for certain applications for example, wireless is deployed with SD-Access, where the additional CAPWAP overhead needs to be considered. In general, increasing the MTU to 9100s bytes on interfaces across all switches, and routers in the fabric domain (underlay and overlay) is recommended to cover most cases to prevent fragmentation.
SD-Access fabric supports the traditional hierarchical networks as well as arbitrarily designed networks such as ring topology, or daisy-chained topologies. Note: A network designed with the Cisco Validated Design (CVD) guidelines, will have less considerations (steps) when upgrading compared to arbitrarily designed networks that have the inherent complexities by the very nature of the design. Since fabric underlay topologies are based on a routed access design, if the existing network is routed access, it lends itself to easier upgrade to SD-Access.
IP addressing for underlay/overlay
Existing campus networks are flat networks and do not have any concept of underlay and overlay. All the IP address schema is flat with no distinction between intra-network prefixes and endpoint network prefixes. SD-Access by its very nature, contains overlay and underlay to differentiate between the two spaces. It is recommended that two distinct IP ranges be selected for the endpoint network prefixes (overlay) and intra-network prefixes (underlay). The advantages are two-fold. The first is to enable summarization of the IP space when advertising in routing considerations. The second is because of its distinct nature, troubleshooting is easier since one has a clear understanding of which IP space is being looked at, at that moment. For example, the overlay could be a 10.0.0.0/8 space, and the underlay range could be a 172.16.0.0/16 space.
Location of shared services
Shared services in the network include services like DHCP, DNS, IP Address Management, NTP, NetFlow collector, syslog, Network Management Systems (NMS), and others. Traditionally all these services lie outside the campus or branch network in a data center. Some network designs do have some or all of these services in the campus or branch connected to either a core or a distribution layer. Additionally, the shared services are normally in the Global Routing Table (GRT), although in some deployments, they might lie in a separate Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRF) context. It is essential that network devices and endpoints have access to the basic services such as DHCP and DNS in order to connect to the network and forward traffic. The steps toward upgrading to SD-Access differ depending upon the physical location as well as the presence in either GRT or VRF of the shared services in the existing network.
Application of features at the distribution layer
In a Layer 2 access design, in most cases, features like (IP ACLs, NetFlow, QoS classification, marking and policing, and others) are configured at the distribution layer switches. Since SD-Access is a fabric solution, the incoming packets from the endpoints are encapsulated in the fabric data plane by the fabric edge, making the distribution layer switches act as intermediate nodes switching IP packets back and forth between fabric edge (access layer) and upstream switches in the network. Due to the encapsulation at the fabric edge itself, the IP classification that the features were based on at the distribution is not available and hence the consideration of moving these features now to the access layer switches in the network.
Routing between VRF and underlay to external network
The Routing Locator addresses (typically Loopback0) and underlay physical connectivity address space is in the Global routing table. The endpoint IP space will typically be in VRFs if not the default VRF. The network devices will still be reachable to the infrastructure/network management stations via the RLOC space in the global routing table.
A mind shift is needed when Scalable Group Tag (SGT) enforcement is considered because the enforcement is not based on static IP ACLs, but rather on dynamic downloaded SG ACLs, which are more secure and allow for an abstraction from the networking constructs (IP address, VLANs, etc.) that simplify the policy deployment.
802.1X implementation further strengthens the onboarding of endpoints onto the network since network connections are now authenticated and/or profiled and placed in the right area in the network. How the users and things on the network should be isolated from each other is another consideration that the network administrator should work along with the security administrator of the network. SD-Access provides dual level of segmentation within the network. With the deployment of VRFs (Virtual Routing and Forwarding) or VNs (Virtual Networks) providing the classic path isolation among endpoints and SG ACLs enforcement providing differentiated access-control within the VN, it is imperative that the network and security administrators work together to form a segmentation and access-control policy that will be applied consistently in the network.
Hardware platform considerations
Table 2. Cisco SD-Access hardware requirements
Cisco Catalyst® 3850/3650 Series Switches
Cisco Catalyst 4500E SUP8-E Supervisors
Cisco Catalyst 9000 family switches (9300, 9400, 9500 Series)
Cisco Catalyst 6500/6800 Series with SUP2T and SUP6T with 6800 series line cards
Cisco Catalyst 6840 and 6880 Series Switches
Cisco Nexus® 7700 (with M3 series line cards)
ISR 4400 Series routers
ASR 1000X/HX Series routers
WLC 3504, 5520, and 8540
802.11ac Wave 2 APs and later (Wave 1 APs with restrictions)
Software platform considerations
Based upon deployment size, scalability and redundancy, the software functions can be run on top of individual Virtual Machines (VMs) or dedicated appliances for the Cisco DNA Center, ISE (Identity Services Engine).
The current software requirements to implement Cisco SD-Access architecture are listed below
Table 3. Cisco SD-Access software requirements
Cisco DNA Center 1.1.3
Identity Service Engine (ISE) 2.3 Patch 1
Cisco SD-Access scaling considerations
The Cisco SD-Access fabric scaling depends on the number of hosts and devices in a single site or across multiple sites. In the first release, Cisco DNA Center will support 1000 network devices as fabric nodes (that includes fabric edge, fabric border, and fabric control plane nodes and wireless LAN controllers, excluding access points) and 20,000 endpoints per fabric domain. A total of 10 fabric domains are supported with Cisco DNA Center 1.1. Geographical locations that are in close proximity from a latency and performance standpoint can be controlled by a single Cisco DNA Center instance. It is recommended that Cisco DNA Center be co-located near other software control plane entities such as ISE administrative nodes to reduce latency for communications between them. This way there is one variable which is latency due to the WAN infrastructure (links and speeds) and not a combination of both. The locations might be in the data center or the main campus site, depending upon customer implementation.
It is recommended to run two control plane nodes per fabric domain for redundancy. For a given fabric domain, the choice of platform will depend upon the number of host entries to be managed by the CP node. Hosting a single CP node instance on a switch platform with active and standby supervisors or stack members provides additional level of redundancy within a system. Hosting the other instance on another switch also provides an additional layer of redundancy across systems. In the latter case, both control planes are active-active and all registrations are sent to both control plane nodes independently. There is no synchronization of the database across two control plane nodes.
Existing network design
There are generally two types of networks – branch and campus. Depending on their size, they can be either two more tier. Sometimes the topology is constrained by the physical factors like space, and could lead to a daisy-chained or a ring topology. A network topology designed using guidelines from the Cisco Validated Design is recommended. Whatever the topology physical design, it can be upgraded to SD-Access – it is just that additional time and consideration should be given for the deviations from the Cisco Validated Design. There are two ways of approaching an upgrade as well.
‘Parallel Install’ is erecting a new network parallel to the existing network. Parallel Install needs prerequisites like space, power, cooling, and cabling to be available in order to satisfy parallel live connections. This approach makes the upgrade easier with the ability to revert to the existing network should the need arise, but it is also the most expensive in the sense that there are two networks running live, consuming power and space over a period of time while the upgrade is successfully completed.
Upgrading one switch at a time allows an incremental upgrade of certain areas of the network rather than upgrading en masse. It is not dependent on factors like space, power, and cabling compared to the above approach and is more reasonable from a cost perspective. Network administrators have the option of experiencing how the new network will provide services and connections using a lot fewer network devices than the above approach. This approach also provides an opportunity to build a small SD-Access deployment over the existing network and test user scenarios in that small deployment.
Reference network design for upgrade
Figure 4. Reference network topology
Consider the above campus network. It is a multitiered network where endpoints connect into the network at the access layer. This layer is aggregated into aggregation layer switches typically at the MDF (Main Distribution Frame). Typically, depending upon density, a building can be thought of as an aggregation block. The access network is a Layer 2 access design, and VLANs are spanned across the access layer within an aggregation layer. In this network, there are six buildings that connect back to the core – three buildings connecting to a single core block. The core block is typically a pair of switches for redundancy. In this example, the core blocks connect to a super-core block. In most networks, though, the aggregation layer connects to a single core block – the super core is collapsed into the core block. At the top in this example are the various blocks of the network that connect into infrastructure elements, namely network management stations, user repositories (Active Directory, ISE, or equivalent AAA radius servers), DHCP servers, DNS servers, NTP servers, and NetFlow collectors, among others. This is the called the shared services block. There is a WAN block that connects into the branch WAN network. There is a separate data center block that connects to the data center over the WAN. Finally, at top right is the Internet block that connects to the Internet. Typically, these days, the services block, WAN block, and Internet block are absorbed into the data center block. Traffic from all the remote locations (campus and branch locations) is routed through the data center – since most of the traffic patterns are north-south (any location to the data center). This is a popular model, since it allows you to centralize all the services that are to be applied to the traffic going to the data center as well as the Internet. However, in this example, consider these blocks to be situated at the campus head-end network.
Use new IP subnets optimized for SD-Access
Consider the above network as an example for starting an upgrade to Cisco SD-Access.
Choosing a new subnet to begin upgrading relieves the challenge in upgrading existing networks – they can function as is, in the current configuration – but allows the network operations team to build out the SD-Access solution over the top not disrupting any transactions in the existing network. In short, a fabric overlay is created by inserting a fabric edge and fabric border switch and creating the fabric over the existing network using it as an underlay. Corresponding activities like provisioning a new DHCP scope, and updating any firewall rules and others have to be done in advance. The new subnet approach also has the advantage of designing new subnets optimized for SD-Access and the fact that the subnets are being designed keeping existing and future needs into consideration, compared to carrying on the legacy of networks designed in the past.
Connecting the first fabric border/control plane and fabric edge switch
Connect the first fabric edge switch into the underlay. Configure system MTU to be 9100 bytes on this switch. Ensure that the uplinks are configured as routed links up to the aggregation layer. IS-IS is the recommended choice of IGP, but any existing IGP like OSPF, or EIGRP will also suffice. Cisco DNA Center’s Plug-and-Play app can be used to automate the integration of this new access switch into the existing network.
The first fabric border switch that will also run the control plane for the SD-Access fabric will be inserted in the core layer, or the super-core layer in this case. There are two options to insert the fabric border.
● If the core switches support the fabric border functionality, one of the pairs can be reconfigured for the fabric border function.
● If the core switches do not support fabric border functionality, then a new switch/router that will support the function as well as the required scalability, can be connected off of the existing border pair. This will not impact the existing core layer in the network.
Figure 5. Using new IP subnets in Cisco SD-Access fabric
The idea is to build the Cisco SD-Access overlay network over the top of the existing network – that forms the underlay. The overlay network consists of multiple Virtual Networks (VNs) that uses new IP subnet space that is optimized for the Cisco SD-Access solution simplifies the IP design in the network as well. Deploy a border/control plane node that routes between the fabric network and the existing external networks.
Step 1: Install and log in to Cisco DNA Center as shown below.
Step 2: Discover existing network using Network Discovery within Cisco DNA Center as seen below.
Step 3: Start with the “Design” tab organizing network locations into a hierarchy. Create multiple sites as needed to be associated into a fabric domain as shown below. For example, SJC_18 seen below.
Step 4: Configure basic network settings as shown below.
Step 5: Add a new IP subnet to the SD-Access fabric network as shown below. This will be a new subnet prefix, and a /16 or a /20 can be used to optimize the subnet size. Associate this IP pool to the right VN in Cisco DNA Center. This will set up the dynamic prefix registration for specific addresses from this prefix as well as set it up for advertisement to the external network.
Step 6: Using Cisco DNA Center Policy tab, configure user-defined Virtual Networks (VNs) as shown below.
Step 7: Assign the existing network switches to the site (SJC_18) as shown below.
Step 8: Add a new switch into the network, assign and provision it to the existing site (SJC_18) as shown below.
Step 9: Create a new fabric domain as shown below.
Step 10: Using the Cisco DNA Center Provision tab, add a border node and control plane node to the fabric domain. Configure reachability at the border node for advertising the fabric prefixes out to the external network.
Step 11: Using the Cisco DNA Center Provision tab, provision the newly added switch as a fabric edge node, as shown below.
Step 12: Using the Onboarding sub-tab, provision the newly created IP subnet into the appropriate virtual network as shown below.
Step 13: Depending on the authentication methods available in SD-Access fabric the end points will be on-boarded into fabric. In the example below we have shown the static authentication method of mapping a port to the IP subnet.
Step 14: Ensure connectivity between a host in the fabric and a host external to the fabric domain. Refer to BRKCRS-2811 – External Network Connectivity for SD-Access to configure the external reachability between fabric prefixes and non-fabric network.
Incrementally expand the fabric edge functionality at the access layer to build out the Cisco SD-Access solution.
Service interworking with SD-Access
When we are upgrading the traditional network into SD-Access fabric we are introducing a concept of virtual network (VRF) in the fabric. Due to this introduction of the additional policy construct we need to be able still communicate to our service’s infrastructure. The Services infrastructure generally reside outside the fabric domain and contain the following elements:
● Identity services (such as AAA/RADIUS)
● Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP)
● IP Address Management (IPAM)
● Monitoring tools (such as SNMP)
● Data collectors (such as NetFlow and Syslog)
● Other infrastructure elements
Since these reside outside of the fabric, the border is responsible for interconnecting the fabric with the services infrastructure. The services infrastructure will generally be deployed using two models:
1) Shared services in global routing table
2) Shared services in dedicated VRF table
Shared services in the global routing table
In this design option, existing services are currently deployed in the global routing table. This does not impose any specific requirements for SD-Access fabric as such. The methodology used to achieve continuity of connectivity in the fabric for the users is, the Global routing table in the traditional portion of the network will peer using BGP/IGP with the virtual network (VRF) in the SD-Access fabric. This ensures that both the domains are reachable to each other.
Figure 6. Configuration on the fabric border for external connectivity
Figure 7. Configuration on the external router for fabric connectivity
Shared services in dedicated VRF table
In this design option, the services infrastructure is placed into a dedicated VRF context of its own and VRF route leaking needs to be provided in order for the virtual network (VRF) in SD-Access fabric to have continuity of connectivity to the services infrastructure. The methodology used to achieve continuity of connectivity in the fabric for the users is, to deploy a fusion router connected to the SD-Access border through VRF-lite using BGP/IGP, and the services infrastructure are connected to the fusion router in a services VRF.
A fusion router is a device that can provide the VRFs with connectivity to the services, the Internet, or even inter-VRF connectivity.
Figure 8. Configuration on the fusion router for fabric to external connectivity
This guide helps you understand the different upgrade options available to convert a traditional network to an SD-Access fabric network.