When discussing the five STP states, Chapter 6 mentioned that Spanning Tree starts ports in a Blocking state. Over a period of 30 to 50 seconds, ports work their way through the Listening and Learning states to finally reach the Forwarding state where user data is actually passed. Spanning Tree was intentionally designed with this conservative logic. Consider the alternative: if STP immediately brought ports into the Forwarding state, loops could form and prevent STP from ever getting any BPDUs through! Instead, STP keeps all ports from forwarding anything but BPDUs for at least 30 seconds by default. This is designed to give the bridges in almost all networks plenty of time to learn the physical topology and then create a loop-free logical topology.
However, the downside to this conservative behavior is slow convergence time. In a world that has grown accustomed to sub-ten-second-failover protocols such as Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), Enhanced IGRP (EIGRP), and Hot Standby Routing Protocol (HSRP), Spanning Tree's default behavior can be intolerably sluggish. In response to this need for speed, there are a variety of techniques available on Catalyst switches to improve on Spanning Tree's default performance. Some of these techniques merely implement features originally designed into the 802.1D protocol. Others take advantage of new and patented features researched and implemented by Cisco. These capabilities can play an important role in building large and stable switched backbones.
In total, Catalysts offer seven techniques to improve Spanning Tree's convergence time:
• Tuning Forward Delay
• Lowering Hello Time
• Disabling PAgP on EtherChannel-capable ports
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