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Port-Channel on Cisco MDS 9000

PortChannels refer to the aggregation of multiple physical interfaces into one logical interface to provide higher aggregated bandwidth, load balancing, and link redundancy. PortChannels can connect to interfaces across switching modules, so a failure of a switching module cannot bring down the PortChannel link.



PortChanneling and Trunking

Trunking is a commonly used storage industry term. However, the Cisco NX-OS software and switches in the Cisco MDS 9000 Family implement trunking and PortChanneling as follows:

  • PortChanneling enables several physical links to be combined into one aggregated logical link.
  • Trunking enables a link transmitting frames in the EISL format to carry (trunk) multiple VSAN traffic. For example, when trunking is operational on an E port, that E port becomes a TE port. A TE port is specific to switches in the Cisco MDS 9000 Family. An industry standard E port can link to other vendor switches and is referred to as a nontrunking interface¬†for information on trunked interfaces.



Load Balancing

Two mechanisms support the load balancing functionality:

  • Flow based: All frames between source and destination follow the same links for a given flow. That is, whichever link is selected for the first exchange of the flow is used for all subsequent exchanges.

  • Exchange based (ox-id): The first frame in an exchange picks a link and subsequent frames in the exchange follow the same link. However, subsequent exchanges can use a different link. This provides more granular load balancing while preserving the order of frames for each exchange.


A PortChannel has the following features and restrictions:

  • Provides a point-to-point connection over ISL (E ports) or EISL (TE ports). Multiple links can be combined into a PortChannel.
  • Increases the aggregate bandwidth on an ISL by distributing traffic among all functional links in the channel.
  • Load balances across multiple links and maintains optimum bandwidth utilization. Load balancing is based on the source ID, destination ID, and exchange ID (OX ID).
  • Provides high availability on an ISL. If one link fails, traffic previously carried on this link is switched to the remaining links. If a link goes down in a PortChannel, the upper protocol is not aware of it. To the upper protocol, the link is still there, although the bandwidth is diminished. The routing tables are not affected by link failure. PortChannels may contain up to 16 physical links and may span multiple modules for added high availability.

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