The ESXi MAC Learn dvFilter Fling was released a little over two years ago and it has become a must have when it comes to running our ESXi Hypervisor within a VM, also referred to as Nested ESXi. The reason this Fling has become such a popular hit amongst our customers and partners is that it greatly improves the performance when “Promiscuous Mode” is enabled on a Virtual or Distributed Virtual Portgroup, which is a requirement for using Nested ESXi. Although this Fling works great, there are a couple of limitations with this solution today. The first of which is called out in the original Fling release notes, that once a MAC Address has been learned, it never ages out which is not ideal for long running Nested ESXi environments that generates a large amount of new MAC Addresses. The second, is the lack of vMotion support where the learned MAC Address table is not transfered to the destination ESXi host and must be re-learned.
To help address both of these limitations, the folks over in the Network and Security Business Unit (NSBU) have been working hard to improve upon the existing solution and have developed a new native MAC Learning VMkernel module called the Learnswitch. This new Learnswitch not only helps improves Nested ESXi workloads but it can also potentially benefit other workloads such as Nested Containers or other 3rd Party network inspection software. One immediate difference from the previous MAC Learn dvFilter solution is that rather than operating on the Network IO Chain, the filtering is now performed within the outer virtual switch layer itself which will provide some additional performance gains. The other added benefit from an internal VMware standpoint is that the Learnswitch is now vmkapi compatible, which means we will have a better backwards compatible story for supporting old releases of ESXi. One downside to this new solution compared to the previous one is that because the dvFilter operated below the virtual switch layer, it could support both a Virtual Standard Switch as well as the Distributed Virtual Switch. With the new Learnswitch, a Distributed Virtual Switch will be required. If you currently do not meet the requirements of the new Learnswitch, you can continue using the dvFilter, but it is recommended that you do not mix both on a single system but you can definitely make use of both solutions across different ESXi hosts depending on the constraints of your environment.
Here are some of the new capabilities provided by the new Learnswitch module:
- Overlay Network based that learning and filtering are done in Etherswitch forwarding check
- MAC Address learning is based on VLAN ID or VXLAN ID on uplink and leaf port
- Packet is filtered on uplink and leaf port if the MAC is learned on a different port
- MAC Address table size is 32k per system
- MAC Address aging support with default aging time of 5 minutes and configurable
- Unknown unicast packet is flooded by default and configurable to drop
- vMotion support that the MAC table learned on the port is transferred to destination host and RARP packet is sent
- Standalone VMkernel module available as a VIB
- net-learnswitch CLI to display MAC Address table, configuration and stats