Given the role that they perform, IDF wiring closets have several specific requirements:
• Port density— Because large numbers of end stations need to connect to each IDF, high port density is a must.
• Cost per port— Given the high port density found in the typical IDF, cost per port must be reasonable.
• Redundancy— Because several hundred devices often connect back to each IDF device, a single IDF failure can create a significant outage.
• Reliability— This point is obviously related to the previous point, however, it highlights the fact that an IDF device is usually an end station's only link to the rest of the world.
• Ease of management— The high number of connections requires that perport administration be kept to a minimum.
Because of the numerous directly connected end users, redundancy and reliability are critical to the IDF's role. As a result, IDFs should not only utilize redundant hardware such as dual Supervisors and power supplies, they should have multiple links to MDF devices. Fast failover of these redundant components is also critical.
IDF reliability brings up an interesting point about end-station connections. Outside of limited environments such as financial trading floors, it is generally not cost-effect to have end stations connected to more than one IDF device. Therefore, the horizontal cabling serves as a single point of failure for most networks. However, note that these failures generally affect only one end station. This is several orders of magnitude less disruptive than losing an entire switch. For important end stations such as servers, dual-port network interface cards (NICs) can be utilized with multiple links to redundant server farm switches.
The traditional device for use in IDF wiring closets is a hub. Because most hubs are fairly simple devices, the price per port can be very attractive. However, the shared nature of hubs obviously provides less available bandwidth. On the other hand, routers and Layer 3 switches can provide extremely intelligent bandwidth sharing decisions. On the downside, these devices can be very expensive and generally have limited port densities.
To strike a balance between cost, available bandwidth, and port densities, almost all recently deployed campus networks use Layer 2 switches in the IDF. This can be a very cost-effective way to provide 500 or more end stations with high-speed access into the campus backbone.
However, this is not to say that some Layer 3 technologies are not appropriate for the wiring closet. Cisco has introduced several IDF-oriented features that use the Layer 3 and 4 capabilities of the NetFlow Feature Card (NFFC). As discussed in Chapter 5, "VLANs, and Chapter 11, "Layer 3 Switching,"' Protocol Filtering can be an effective way to limit the impact of broadcasts on end stations. By allowing a port to only output broadcasts for the Layer 3 protocols that are actually in use, valuable CPU cycles can be saved. For example, a broadcast-efficient TCP/IP node in VLAN 2 can be spared from being burdened with IPX SAP updates. IGMP Snooping is another feature that utilizes the NFFC to inspect Layer 3 information. By allowing the Catalyst to prune ports from receiving certain multicast addresses, this feature can save significant bandwidth in networks that make extensive use of multicast applications. Finally, the NFFC can be used to classify traffic for Quality of Service/Class of Service (QoS/COS) purposes.
The most important IDF concerns are cost, port densities, and redundancy.
IDF devices collapse back to one or more Main Distribution Frame (MDF) devices in a star-like fashion. Each IDF usually connects to two different MDF devices to provide adequate redundancy. Some organizations place both MDF devices in the same physical closet and rely on disparate routing of the vertical cabling for redundancy. Other organizations prefer to place the MDF devices in separate closets altogether. The relationship between buildings and MDFs is not a hard rule — larger buildings might have more than two MDF switches, whereas a pair of redundant MDF devices might be able to carry multiple buildings that are smaller in size.
Figure 14-2 shows three buildings with MDF closets. To meet redundancy requirements, each building generally houses two MDF devices. The MDF devices can also be used to interconnect the three buildings (other designs are discussed later).
Figure 14-2 MDF Closets
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Figure 14-2 MDF Closets
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MDF closets have a different set of requirements and concerns than IDF closets:
• High availability
• Routing capabilities
Given that they act as concentration points for IDF traffic, MDF devices must be able to carry extremely high levels of traffic. In the case of a Layer 2 switch, this bandwidth is inexpensive and readily available. However, as is discussed later in this chapter, many of the strategies to achieve robust and scalable designs require routing in the MDF. Achieving this level of Layer 3 performance can require some careful planning. For more information on Layer 3 switching, see Chapter 11. Issues associated with Layer 3 switching are also addressed later in this chapter and in Chapter 15.
High availability is an important requirement for MDF devices. Although the failure of either an MDF or IDF switch potentially affects many users, there is a substantial distinction between these two situations. As discussed in the previous section, the failure of an IDF device completely disables the several hundred attached end stations. On the other hand, because MDFs are almost always deployed in pairs, failures rarely result in a complete loss of connectivity. However, this is not to say that MDF failures are inconsequential. To the contrary, MDF failures often affect thousands of users, many more than with an IDF failure. This requires as many features as possible that transparently reroute traffic around MDF problems.
In addition to the raw Layer 3 performance discussed earlier, other routing features can be important in MDF situations. For example, the issue of what Layer 3 protocols the router handles can be important (IP, IPX, AppleTalk, and so forth). Routing protocol support (OSPF, RIP, EIGRP, IS-IS, and so on) can also be a factor. Support for features such as DHCP relay and HSRP can be critical.
Three types of devices can be utilized in MDF closets:
• Layer 2 switches
• Hybrid, "routing switches" such as MLS
• "Switching routers" such as the Catalyst 8500
The first of these is also the simplest—a Layer 2 switch. The moderate cost and high throughput of these devices can make them very attractive options. Examples of these devices include current Catalyst 4000 models and traditional Catalyst 5000 switches without a Route Switch Module (RSM) or NFFC.
However, as mentioned earlier, there are compelling reasons to use Layer 3 processing in the MDF. This leads many network designs to utilize the third option, a Layer 3 switch that is functioning as a hardware-based router, what Chapter 11 referred to as a switching router. The Catalyst 8500 is an excellent example of this sort of device.
Cisco also offers another approach, Multilayer Switching (MLS), that lies between the previous two. MLS is a hybrid approach that allows the Layer 2-oriented Supervisors to cache Layer 3 information. It allows Catalysts to operate under the routing switch form of Layer 3 switching discussed in Chapter 11. A Catalyst 5000 with an RSM and NFFC is an example of an MLS switch. Other examples include the Catalyst 5000 Route Switch Feature Card (RSFC) and the Catalyst 6000 Multilayer Switch Feature Card (MSFC).
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