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NetApp flow control and 10GbE recommendations

I have been investigating NetApp’s “best practices” on flow control and found the following two references where NetApp suggest on modern 10GbE infrastructure flow control should be avoided.

TR-3802 – Ethernet Storage Best Practices

Page 22

CONGESTION MANAGEMENT WITH FLOW CONTROL

Flow control mechanisms exist at many different OSI Layers including the TCP window, XON/XOFF, and FECN/BECN for Frame Relay. In an Ethernet context, L2 flow control was unable to be implemented until the introduction of full duplex links, because a half duplex link is unable to send and receive traffic simultaneously. 802.3X allows a device on a point-to-point connection experiencing congestion to send a PAUSE frame to temporarily pause the flow of data. A reserved and defined multicast MAC address of 01-80-C2-00-00-01 is used to send the PAUSE frames, which also includes the length of pause requested.

In simple networks, this method works well to can work well. However, with the introduction of larger and larger networks along with more advanced network equipment and software, technologies such as TCP windowing, increased switch buffering, and end-to-end QoS negate the need for simple flow control throughout the network.

TR-3749 NetApp Storage Best Practices for VMware vSphere

Page 25

FLOW CONTROL

Flow control is a low-level process for managing the rate of data transmission between two nodes to prevent a fast sender from overrunning a slow receiver. Flow control can be configured on ESX/ESXi servers, FAS storage arrays, and network switches. For modern network equipment, especially 10GbE equipment, NetApp recommends turning off flow control and allowing congestion management to be performed higher in the network stack. For older equipment, typically GbE with smaller buffers and weaker buffer management, NetApp recommends configuring the endpoints, ESX servers, and NetApp arrays with the flow control set to “send.”

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