Selecting Network Switches for Your AWS Outposts
This blog post is written by, Frankie Negro, Outposts Solution Architect.
AWS Outposts is a family of fully managed solutions that extend AWS infrastructure, services, APIs, and tools to customer premises. Outposts is available in a variety of form factors, from 1U and 2U Outposts servers (https://aws.amazon.com/outposts/servers/) to 42U Outposts racks (https://aws.amazon.com/outposts/rack/). AWS Outposts is ideal for workloads that require low-latency access to on-premises systems, local data processing, data residency, and application migration with local system interdependencies.
When operating and consuming services in the AWS Regions, the underlying networking layer is completely abstracted. You do not need to be aware of the underlying networking topology, device port speeds, connectors, transports, links, and media types. Instead, the focus is on design, with the architecture leveraging the high-level constructs available for the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), such as VPCs, Subnets, Route Tables, Security Groups, and network access control lists. The network bandwidth available for an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance depends on the number of vCPUs that it has.
AWS Outposts requires a dedicated network connection to an AWS Region defined by the customer when ordering the product. This connection is called the Service Link, and it connects to either public or private anchors (not both) in a specific Availability Zone (AZ) in the selected parent Region. AWS recommends redundant connections that meet the bandwidth requirements for Outposts rack and Outposts servers.
The purpose of AWS Outposts is to fulfill use cases where the workload has requirements that prevent or make it unfeasible to operate in the AWS Regions. Most of these use cases, such as low latency and local data processing, require strong and reliable network infrastructure to handle a high volume of packets per second.
The construct connecting AWS Outposts to the customer on-premises network is called local gateway (LGW) for Outposts rack and local network interface (LNI) for Outposts Servers. These logical elements mediate the data traffic between Outposts and the customer premises.
On Outposts rack, Service Link and LGW traffic flows through the same network connection, which can be a single link per physical device or an aggregated link. Network packets sent to the Region or to your local network are segregated using distinct virtual LANs (VLANs) on Outposts rack. The smaller family members, Outposts servers, use two distinct physical ports.
The physical network elements providing the connections between the devices and services are called Outposts Networking Devices (ONDs) on the AWS side and Customer Networking Devices (CNDs) on the customer side. For its part, Outposts rack can deliver throughput up to 400 Gbps, aggregating 4 x 100 Gbps uplinks to support Service Link and LGW network traffic, while an Outposts server can provide a 10 Gbps dedicated network port for each traffic.
The upstream devices you provide play a fundamental role in the harmonic coexistence and operation at the ethernet physical and data link layers, which are the basis for performance and stability of the upper network and transport layers as defined by the OSI model. A careful selection of your upstream networking devices must combine reliable operations, cost effectiveness, and long-term vision.
The physical layer (L1)
Here we are talking about physical cables and media interfaces. There are no supported options for UTP Cables with RJ-45 connectors, as Outposts rack only supports Fiber Optic cables with Lucent Connectors (LC). For short distances you can use MMF (Multi-Mode Fiber) or MMF OM4 (Optical Multimode) with LC. Longer distances can be achieved using SMF (Single Mode Fiber). Distance limits depend on the Fiber Mode and Type.
Each Outposts server has one physical QSFP+ interface. A 4-way breakout cable is supplied with SFP+ transceivers. You will use two interfaces: One for the LNI traffic and another for the Service Link traffic.
With this is mind, RJ-45 ports on upstream switches will not suit any AWS Outposts connections. Switch models that combine RF-45 and optical ports can be used in conjunction with copper ethernet cables category 8 (CAT8), which support up to 40 Gbps speeds, to connect other segments while the optical ports can be used for AWS Outposts.
When evaluating your upstream switches, bear in mind that Outposts rack switches are always capable of 1 / 10 / 40 / 100 Gbps speeds, and it is the same equipment regardless of the selected AWS Outposts resource ID and uplink connection speed defined during the order process.
It is recommended to account for future traffic needs from the beginning and specify upstream switches with 40 or 100 Gbps ports rather than start small and upgrade in the future. Upgrades and changes always carry risk, so limiting future risk by minimizing the need for upgrades will help mitigate issues and provide a stable, productive environment.
Another characteristic to look for when selecting your networking devices is “non-blocking” switches. These switches can handle all ports at full capacity simultaneously, without contention. It is a simple feature to select, and you can expect high performance out-of-the box without having to go too deep into details such as buffering mechanisms.
The Data Link layer (L2)
This layer establishes and terminates the logical links between nodes and exchange frames end-to-end. Outposts rack requires that your upstream devices support 802.1Q (Dot1q) standards that implement the VLAN support needed to segregate traffic to be forwarded to the Region (via Service Link) from traffic to be forwarded to the customer’s local network.
Most core switches ship with this capability. One good spec to evaluate is the maximum size of the MAC Address Table per VLAN supported by the switch. If the MAC Table gets full, your equipment may fail over to broadcast mode in that VLAN, which introduces additional stress in the network and is a potential exploit condition.
Another common feature for core switches is to support link aggregation or bundle links together so they act like a single, logical link. While AWS Outposts will work with just a single connection per OND, a recommended fault tolerance and high availability best practice is to aggregate multiple paths to withstand the failure of one or multiple members of the logical aggregation group.
As defined in the AWS Well-Architected Framework Reliability pillar design principles, to observe best practices of Automatically recover from failure and Scale horizontally to increase aggregate workload availability, you should consider implementing, for example, 4 x 10 Gbps instead of a single 40 Gbps uplink. AWS Outposts uses link aggregation control protocol (LACP) aggregations with the immediate customer network device (CND) according to the IEEE 802.3ad standard.
To learn more about how you can architect Outposts for network failures, check out the AWS Outposts High Availability Design and Architecture Considerations at this URL.
The logical interface defined as a result of the link aggregation (LAG) can be configured as an ethernet trunk port defined in the IEEE 802.1q standard to allow the use of multiple VLANs. Alternatively, the logical interface can be configured as an L3 interface with the Service Link and LGW defined as VLAN sub-interfaces. This is how AWS Outposts segregates traffic forwarded to Service Link from packets sent to the customer local network.
The Network layer (L3)
At this layer, we get into routing and logical addressing. Outposts rack requires Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to dynamically exchange routes. Each OND device will establish eBGP peering with the upstream routing device for the Service Link and the LGW.
The architectural decision will be a trade-off between discrete components for routing and switching and an L3 switch capable of BGP routing. This aspect requires a careful assessment. It is common for a core switch to offer L3 capabilities, but BGP support is not available in most cases.
Switch design often aims for excelling at L2 and basic L3. If the network design requires advanced routing features or large IP routing tables, the safest path is to specify a powerful L2 switch and a dedicated L3 router.
Redundant equipment for fault tolerance is recommended as well. AWS does not have restrictions on how the customer implements core switches, but it’s always a good practice to keep it simple and standard, avoiding designs that include proprietary solutions, such as Virtual Chassis and Switch Clustering, because it can make troubleshooting difficult.
In this post, I showed the importance of dedicating time and effort to carefully evaluating the networking landscape where your AWS Outposts will be deployed, assessing the network device options available to you, designing for high-availability, and selecting switch models with proper feature sets and future-proof specifications.
The performance and operation of your AWS Outposts is largely dependent on your network substrate, and all efforts dedicated to making good decisions will be time well spent, allowing you to get the best value out of your hybrid solution while focusing on creating compelling applications and addressing your use cases with AWS Outposts.