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Container Orchestration in Cisco NX-OS Platforms

Chapter Description

In this sample chapter from Containers in Cisco IOS-XE, IOS-XR, and NX-OS: Orchestration and Operation, you will explore the key built-in capabilities that enable application hosting and containers in Nexus switching platforms.

In this chapter, you will learn the following:

  • Cisco NX-OS architecture—key characteristics and benefits

  • Environment readiness to host containers and applications

  • Container infrastructure instantiation, network and access configuration, orchestration and application hosting—LXC-based Guest Shell, Bash, Docker and LXC-based Open Agent Container.

Cisco NX-OS Software Architecture

Cisco NX-OS is designed to meet the needs of modern data centers, which demand products, applications, and services that are high performance, highly available, resilient, secure, scalable, and modular in architecture. These criteria are met by all the platforms—Nexus 3000, 5000, 6000, 7000, and 9000—that support and run Cisco NX-OS. These characteristics provide the solid foundation of resilience and robustness necessary for network device OSes powering the mission-critical environment of today’s enterprise-class data centers.

NX-OS Foundation

Cisco NX-OS finds its roots in the Cisco SAN-OS operating system used in lossless SAN networks. As a direct result of having been deployed and evolving from nearly a decade in the extremely critical storage area networking space, NX-OS can deliver the performance, reliability, and lifecycle expected in the data center.

Cisco NX-OS is built on a Linux kernel. By using Linux kernel as its foundation, Cisco NX-OS has the following characteristics and benefits:

  • An open-source and community development model, which leads to real-world field testing and rapid defect identification and resolution

  • Proven stability and maturity, with advanced capabilities

  • A near-real-time OS kernel, which is suitable to scale real-time applications

  • An architecture leveraging multiple run-queues for handling multicore and multiple-CPU system configurations

  • A multithreaded, preemptive multitasking capability that provides protected fair access to kernel and CPU resources because it employs a highly scalable processor queue and process-management architecture

These characteristics and benefits ensure system stability and fair access to the system resources for software functions such as routing protocols, the spanning tree, and internal services and processes. By its inherent nature, NX-OS supports multiprocessor and multicore hardware platforms, which help to simplify scalability by supporting not only current hardware or software features but also future software features.

NX-OS Modular Software Architecture

NX-OS software components are modular and built on top of the Linux kernel, as illustrated in Figure 7-1. These modular components can be described as such:

  • Hardware drivers, which are hardware-related and highly dependent on the platform

  • Infrastructure modules to manage the system

  • Software features or control-plane functions


Figure 7-1 NX-OS Software Architecture

The platform-dependent modules consist of hardware-related subsystems, such as hardware and chipset drivers specific to a particular hardware model on which Cisco NX-OS runs. These modules typically provide standardized APIs and messaging capabilities to upper-layer subsystems. The modules essentially constitute a hardware abstraction layer to enable consistent development at higher layers in the OS, improving overall OS portability. The code base for these hardware-dependent modules reduces the overall code that needs to be ported to support future NX-OS releases and for other hardware platforms.

The Netstack module runs in user space and is a complete TCP/IP stack with components L2 Packet Manager, ARP, Adjacency Manager, IPv4, Internet Control Message Protocol v4 (ICMPv4), IPv6, ICMPv6, TCP/UDP, and socket library. The Netstack is built and used to handle the traffic sent to and from the CPU. A user can debug Netstack to uncover the process(es) that are triggering a high CPU utilization condition.

The system infrastructure modules such as management infrastructure and high-availability infrastructure provide essential base system services that enable process management, fault detection and recovery, and interservice communication. High-availability infrastructure provides subsecond recovery of a fault, enabling stateful recovery of a process. During the recovery, it preserves the runtime state of the feature, increasing the overall network and services availability. The Persistent Storage System (PSS) and Message Transmission Services (MTS), the core parts of the high-availability infrastructure, enable the subsecond recovery of a fault, resulting in overall higher system uptime.

The feature modules consist of the actual underlying services responsible for delivering a feature or running a protocol at the control plane level. Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), Spanning Tree Protocol, Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV), and NetFlow export are all examples of modularized system-level features or protocols. Each feature is implemented as an independent, memory-protected process that is spawned as needed based on the overall system configuration.

This approach differs from that of legacy network operating systems in that only the specific features that are configured are automatically loaded and started. This highly granular approach to modularity enables benefits such as these:

  • Compartmentalization of fault domains, resulting in overall system resiliency and stability

  • Simplified portability for cross-platform consistency

  • More efficient defect isolation, resulting in rapid defect resolution

  • Easy integration of new feature modules into the OS

  • Support of conditional services, resulting in efficient use of memory, CPU and CLI resources, and improved security as lesser OS functions are exposed

Fault Detection and Recovery

In addition to the resiliency gained from architectural improvements, Cisco NX-OS provides internal hierarchical and multilayered system fault detection and recovery mechanisms. No software system is completely immune to problems, so it is important to have an effective strategy for detecting and recovering from faults quickly, with as little effect as possible. Cisco NX-OS is designed from the start to provide this capability.

Individual service and feature processes are monitored and managed by the Cisco NX-OS System Manager, an intelligent monitoring service with integrated high-availability logic. The system manager can detect and correct a failure or lockup of any feature service within the system. The system manager is, in turn, monitored and managed for health by the Cisco NX-OS kernel. A specialized portion of the kernel is designed to detect failures and lockups of the Cisco NX-OS System Manager. The kernel itself is monitored through hardware. A hardware process constantly monitors the kernel health and activity. Any fault, failure, or lockup at the kernel level is detected by hardware and triggers a supervisor switchover. Figure 7-2 illustrates the components involved in the fault detection and recovery process.


Figure 7-2 NX-OS Fault Detection and Recovery

The combination of these multilevel detection and health monitoring systems creates a robust and resilient operating environment that can reduce the overall effect of internal faults and, more importantly, preserve the stability of the overall network by internalizing these types of events.

More Benefits of NX-OS

Following are some of the key but nonexhaustive benefits that this chapter will briefly discuss:

  • Familiar usability and operation: Cisco NX-OS maintains the familiarity of the Cisco IOS CLI. Users comfortable with the Cisco IOS CLI will find themselves equally comfortable with Cisco NX-OS, which has numerous user interface enhancements.

  • Virtualization capability: Cisco NX-OS offers the capability to virtualize the platform on which it is running. Using Cisco NX-OS virtual device contexts (VDCs), a single physical device can be virtualized into many logical devices, each operating independently. And it supports virtualization of overlay transport, which addresses the need to scale Layer 2 by extending the domain across different data centers.

  • Enhanced security: NX-OS supports features and tools to secure the platform and its functions. Some of the more advanced security features supported are Cisco TrustSec (CTS), IP Source Guard, DHCP snooping, Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding (uRPF), access control lists (ACLs), and 802.1x.

  • Unified I/O and unified fabric: Cisco Unified Fabric includes the flexibility to run Fiber Channel; IP-based storage, such as network-attached storage (NAS) and Small Computer System Interface over IP (iSCSI), or FCoE; or a combination of these technologies on a converged network.

  • Support of standalone fabric: NX-OS supports features to build standalone fabrics such as FabricPath, Dynamic Fabric Automation (DFA), and VXLAN/EVPN to scale the Layer 2 domains and meet the demands of today’s virtualized computing environments and applications.

  • Advanced system management: NX-OS supports SNMP (v1, v2c, and v3) to enable traditional ways of managing systems. NETCONF and XML are integrated to NX-OS, which make it IETF-compliant to transact XML through secure connections. With the support of configuration checkpoint and rollback, managing devices through its software lifecycle is easier.

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