Several months ago, sFlow became instrumental in figuring out the issue with HP switches that we inherited. Just to give you an idea of what the issue was, the HP switches would sporadically drop off the network but the user data traffic was still flowing. Good thing it was only the management traffic that was dropping and not user traffic. With the help of sFlow collector, I was able to correlate the timestamps of when several HP switches went down and I found out that MLD (Multicast Listener Discovery) was the culprit. Tried to search the web for some answers but no luck. I upgraded the code of the switches but still no luck. Finally, I decided to contact HP Tech Support since they offer a lifetime warranty on hardware and software. When the tech support asked for the config, he saw that igmp querier was turned on and when we turned it off the problem never came back. Since we’ve been replacing the HP switches with Cisco Catalyst switches, I wanted to replicate some level of the sFlow functionality. Luckily, the Catalyst 2960-X supports NetFlow-Lite.
What is NetFlow-Lite?
Cisco defines it as shown below. If you want to read more about NetFlow-Lite, please read this. To me, it’s a way for a network professional to see some visibility of what’s on the wire and gather statistics.
NetFlow-Lite collects packets randomly, classifies them into flows, and measures flow statistics as they pass through the switch. It is a true flow-based traffic-monitoring mechanism that conserves valuable forwarding bandwidth when exporting flow-based data for analysis and reporting.
Prior to sFlow and NetFlow-Lite, I was somewhat exposed with NetFlow but it was very limited implementation. That NetFlow implementation was good enough for what we used it for. Besides, the traffic generated by devices and/or computers on the network were very specific to the business applications and the computers were locked down tight so it was not needed at all. The places where we needed application visibility had protocol analyzers deployed so there was not a whole lot of push to deploy NetFlow.
NetFlow-Lite is not available in all Catalyst switches, I believe it was first supported on Catalyst 4948 platform and now being supported on newer Catalyst switches. The NetFlow-Lite requires the FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) that contains the logic to implement NetFlow engine. Without it, then there won’t be support of NetFlow-Lite. Hence, no support on older platforms.
If you want to know what the commands do, please visit the configuration guide here.
flow record netflow match datalink mac source address input match datalink mac destination address input match ipv4 protocol match ipv4 source address match ipv4 destination address match ipv6 protocol match ipv6 source address match ipv6 destination address match transport source-port match transport destination-port collect transport tcp flags collect interface input collect flow sampler collect counter bytes long collect counter packets long collect timestamp sys-uptime first collect timestamp sys-uptime last ! flow exporter collector description To NetFlow Collector destination 192.168.1.100 source Vlan100 transport udp 9985 template data timeout 60 option interface-table ! flow monitor netflow record netflow exporter collector cache timeout active 30 ! sampler netflow mode random 1 out-of 32 ! ! interface range Gi1/0/1 - 48 ip flow monitor netflow sampler netflow input ! interface range Te1/0/1, TeX/0/1 ip flow monitor netflow sampler netflow input
There are many vendors out there that sell flow collector software. Vendors out there like inMon (sFlow creator), Plixer, ntop, SolarWinds, etc. Make sure that they support NetFlow v9 or IPFIX since that’s the format that NetFlow-Lite can export to. Most of these vendors have trial software that you could use to give you a demo of their product. I am sure they’ll be happy to do a webinar so that they could introduce you to their product before starting to play with their software.
While NetFlow-Lite gave us some visibility, I noticed that sFlow provided more information so it is still better than not having any visibility at all. If your switches are capable of doing NetFlow-Lite, I suggest you do some trial to see if it’s going to be helpful for your environment. For us, it’s definitely helpful to have visibility so it is still being used. Another pretty cool feature that I find it very convenient is the fact that it could tell you the switch and port number of the device you’re looking for. While it’s not quite of a big deal to just log in to routers and switches to trace the device you’re looking for, it’s rather inconvenient to do so, especially if you implement two-factor for your switch-based authentication.
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