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qeth Devices: Promiscuous Modes, Live Guest Migration, and more

qeth devices, namely OSA-Express and HiperSockets, have a vast array of functionalities that is easy to get lost in. This entry illustrates some of the most commonly sought functionalities, while trying to avoid confusing the reader with too much background information.


Bridgeport Mode

Initially, the only way to enable promiscuous mode on OSA-Express adapters and HiperSockets was through the so-called bridgeport mode. The concept of the bridgeport mode distinguishes between between ports as follows:

  • Primary bridgeport: The primary bridgeport receives all traffic for all destination addresses unknown to the device. Or, in other words: If the device receives data for a destination unknown to it, instead of dropping it, it will be forwarded to the current primary bridgeport instead. Which further implies that as soon as an operating system registers a MAC address with the device, traffic destined for that MAC address becomes "invisible" to the bridgeport.
    Note: Only a single operating system can use the primary bridgeport on an adapter at any time.
  • Secondary bridgeport: Whenever the operating system that currently has the primary bridgeport gives up on it, one of the secondary bridgeports will become the new primary. An arbitrary number of operating systems can register as a secondary bridgeport.

Bridgeport mode is available in Layer 2 mode only. Furthermore, HiperSockets devices need to be defined as external-bridged in IOCDS.
Use attributes in the device's sysfs directory as follows:

  • bridge_role: Set the desired role (none, primary, or secondary), and query the current one.
  • bridge_state: Query the current state (active or inactive)

Bridgeport mode effectively provides a promiscuous mode. But note that in addition to enabling the primary bridgeport mode, the respective interface has to have the promiscuous mode set, still!
All in all, here is how usage of this feature typically looks like:

  $ echo primary >/sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/bridge_role

  # verify that we got primary bridgeport, not secondary, and are active:

  $ cat /sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/bridge_state 
  $ cat /sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/bridge_role


  # enable promiscuous mode on the interface
  $ ip link set <interface> promisc on

The downside of this approach is that only a single operating system per device can enable the primary bridgeport mode, which scales only that far. Therefore, something better, with more functionality was introduced to the platform.

VNIC Characteristics

Introduced with IBM z14/LinuxONE II for HiperSockets, and IBM z15/LinuxONE III for OSA, the VNIC characteristics feature provides promiscuous mode for multiple operating systems attached to the same device, and provides additional functionality which can be very handy especially with KVM.
The VNIC characteristics can be controlled through a number of attributes located in an extra subdirectory called vnicc in the device's sysfs directory.

Let us focus on two main functionalities.

Promiscuous Mode

Technically, VNIC does not provide a traditional promiscuous mode (just like bridgeport mode did not in the literal sense), but rather emulates a self-learning switch. However, for users looking for a promiscuous mode that is usable in conjunction with a Linux bridge or an Open vSwitch, the end-result is the same.

To activate, set the attributes as follows:

  echo 1>/sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/vnicc/flooding
  echo 1>/sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/vnicc/mcast_flooding
  echo 1>/sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/vnicc/learning

Again, in addition to enabling the promiscuous mode on the device, the respective interface has to have the promiscuous mode set, still:

  ip link set <interface> promisc on

KVM Live Guest Migration

Providing connectivity to virtual servers running in KVM, administrators have two choices to provide connectivity:

  • Via Open vSwitch: Requires a promiscuous mode, see above. Virtual servers migrated between the two Open vSwitches will have uninterrupted connectivity thanks to the devices being configure in promiscuous mode, provided that the networking architecture is set up accordingly. The two Open vSwitches may or may not share the same networking device.
  • Via MAC Address Takeover: This is only required in case both, the source and the target KVM host share the same device and use MacVTap to connect to it. While the traffic will still run through the same device, some handshaking has to take place to make sure that the MAC address is configured correctly, and traffic forwared to the target KVM host once migration has completed. This has to be authorized - otherwise, an attacker could divert traffic elsewhere.

Luckily, VNIC characteristics offers functionality for MAC address takeover, too. To enable, set the VNIC characteristics as follows:

On the source KVM host:

  echo 1>/sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/vnicc/takeover_learning

On the target KVM host:

  echo 1>/sys/devices/qeth/0.0.bd00/vnicc/takeover_setvmac

Final Words

Note that bridgeport mode and VNIC characteristics are mutually exclusive! Meaning as soon as e.g. a single VNIC characteristics-related attribute is activated, bridgeport-related functionality is not available anymore until that VNIC-characteristic is disabled again.

Furthermore, check your Linux distribution's tools on how to persist the changes outlined above. On many distros, chzdev (comes with the s390-tools package) does the job, but not (yet) on all.

This article only provides a brief overview. Both, promiscuous mode and the VNIC characteristics have a lot more to it than what was covered in this brief overview, which merely aims to provide just enough information to get readers started with the most common usecases. For a deeper understanding, check the respective sections in the Device Drivers, Features, and Commands book.

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