Networking 101 for HP Virtual Connect and VMware vSphere

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Virtual Connect is a product introduced for the c7000 BladeSystem chassis. There are multiple interconnect modules available. The FlexFabric module integrates both Ethernet and SAN connectivity into one module. Flex-10 with VC-FC modules (separete modules) can also be used to provide full 10 GbE Ethernet and 8 GB SAN connectivity. I’ll describe how the two deployment options differ in a later article. The idea behind Virtual Connect is to provide additional flexibility above and beyond what traditional chassis-based switches might provide. For example, having the ability to create server profiles that map network interface cards (NICs) on each blade to different networks; these profiles are then assigned to servers in the blade chassis using the on-board Virtual Connect Manager (VCM) on a slot-by-slot basis. Assigning (or unassigning) a server profile requires the server to be shutdown. Once the server is deployed you can make modifications on the fly without having to take the system down.

While the idea of server profiles can be useful in vSphere environments, Virtual Connect's ability to integrate with VLAN tagging configurations is perhaps more applicable to ESXi Server deployments on c-Class blades servers. Take a look at the ProLiant Gen8 Portfolio when you have a chance.

Virtual Connect and ESXi

When it comes to segmenting your network with VLANs, let's think about how using VMware ESXi with Virtual Connect might be a bit different. Shared Uplink Sets (SUS) are the physical connections from the Virtual Connect modules in the chassis to the ToR (Top of Rack) / edge switches. These uplink definitions behave differently and will have a direct impact on the vSwitch/port group configuration for ESXi Server. How your network is laid out will depend on how you deploy your VC network. The great thing is if you plan on migrating from a flat network (no VLANs) to a segmented network with multiple VLANs, deploying Virtual Connect with vSphere will make this network migration project much less of a headache than it has to be. You can simply lay out your new networks ahead of time and the use the built-in network migration options in vSphere to move your VMs to their new network(s).

Ethernet networks (as defined in Virtual Connect) define which Shared Uplinks a network is allowed to use, but they do not affect the 802.1Q status of the downstream connections (these are the connections to the servers inside your c7000). Implementing Virtual Connect on the c-Class chassis may define dissimilar Ethernet networks so that each network's uplinks connect to different core switches for redundancy. Basically you can define multiple SUS’s to create redundancy for your networks.

Let’s say you want to have connectivity to both your core infrastructure and your DMZ because you want to deploy/manage virtual machines in both environments using vSphere. You can accomplish this with Virtual Connect because you can create a redundant SUS for your core infrastructure connectivity and then create another SUS that connects to your DMZ. It’s that simple! VLAN tags and all, it does not matter. Ethernet networks will pass the 802.1Q (trunking) status of the physical switch port to which the SUS is connected. The physical switch port to which the SUS is connected to is configured as a trunk. You can take advantage of port aggregation to provide more bandwidth and an extra level of redundancy between the VC modules and your edge switching (Channel Group configured as a trunk). All of this can be accomplished with vSphere and Virtual Connect.

Let’s say an organization wants to use virtual switch tagging on a standard vSwitch or vDS (either one works); the virtual machine port groups are tagged with VLANs. The physical switch ports that connect the Virtual Connect SUSs must be configured as 802.1Q VLAN trunks in order to pass VLAN tags. The VM will send/receive traffic on the network as if it were connected directly to your edge switch!

If you want to migrate your virtual environment to 10 GbE, Virtual Connect is the way to go! There’s more to it than networking because SAN connectivity is also involved! So if you are retiring that old storage array and need to migrate to your new array…Virtual Connect is the way to go! Contact Anexinet for more info!