Designing for high availability with ExpressRoute

ExpressRoute is designed for high availability to provide carrier grade private network connectivity to Microsoft resources. In other words, there is no single point of failure in the ExpressRoute path within Microsoft network. To maximize the availability, the customer and the service provider segment of your ExpressRoute circuit should also be architected for high availability. In this article, first let's look into network architecture considerations for building robust network connectivity using an ExpressRoute, then let's look into the fine-tuning features that help you to improve the high availability of your ExpressRoute circuit.

Architecture considerations

The following figure illustrates the recommended way to connect using an ExpressRoute circuit for maximizing the availability of an ExpressRoute circuit.

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For high availability, it's essential to maintain the redundancy of the ExpressRoute circuit throughout the end-to-end network. In other words, you need to maintain redundancy within your on-premises network, and shouldn't compromise redundancy within your service provider network. Maintaining redundancy at the minimum implies avoiding single point of network failures. Having redundant power and cooling for the network devices will further improve the high availability.

First mile physical layer design considerations

If you terminate both the primary and secondary connections of an ExpressRoute circuits on the same Customer Premises Equipment (CPE), you're compromising the high availability within your on-premises network. Additionally, if you configure both the primary and secondary connections via the same port of a CPE (either by terminating the two connections under different subinterfaces or by merging the two connections within the partner network), you're forcing the partner to compromise high availability on their network segment as well. This compromise is illustrated in the following figure.

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On the other hand, if you terminate the primary and the secondary connections of an ExpressRoute circuits in different geographical locations, then you could be compromising the network performance of the connectivity. If traffic is actively load balanced across the primary and the secondary connections that are terminated on different geographical locations, potential substantial difference in network latency between the two paths would result in suboptimal network performance.

For geo-redundant design considerations, see Designing for disaster recovery with ExpressRoute.

Active-active connections

Microsoft network is configured to operate the primary and secondary connections of ExpressRoute circuits in active-active mode. However, through your route advertisements, you can force the redundant connections of an ExpressRoute circuit to operate in active-passive mode. Advertising more specific routes and BGP AS path prepending are the common techniques used to make one path preferred over the other.

To improve high availability, it's recommended to operate both the connections of an ExpressRoute circuit in active-active mode. If you let the connections operate in active-active mode, Microsoft network will load balance the traffic across the connections on per-flow basis.

Running the primary and secondary connections of an ExpressRoute circuit in active-passive mode face the risk of both the connections failing following a failure in the active path. The common causes for failure on switching over are lack of active management of the passive connection, and passive connection advertising stale routes.

Alternatively, running the primary and secondary connections of an ExpressRoute circuit in active-active mode, results in only about half the flows failing and getting rerouted, following an ExpressRoute connection failure. Thus, active-active mode will significantly help improve the Mean Time To Recover (MTTR).

NAT for Microsoft peering

Microsoft peering is designed for communication between public end-points. So commonly, on-premises private endpoints are Network Address Translated (NATed) with public IP on the customer or partner network before they communicate over Microsoft peering. Assuming you use both the primary and secondary connections in active-active mode, where and how you NAT has an impact on how quickly you recover following a failure in one of the ExpressRoute connections. Two different NAT options are illustrated in the following figure:

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In the option 1, NAT is applied after splitting the traffic between the primary and secondary connections of the ExpressRoute. To meet the stateful requirements of NAT, independent NAT pools are used between the primary and the secondary devices so that the return traffic would arrive to the same edge device through which the flow egressed.

In the option 2, a common NAT pool is used before splitting the traffic between the primary and secondary connections of the ExpressRoute. It's important to make the distinction that the common NAT pool before splitting the traffic does not mean introducing single-point of failure thereby compromising high-availability.

With the option 1, following an ExpressRoute connection failure, ability to reach the corresponding NAT pool is broken. Therefore, all the broken flows have to be re-established either by TCP or application layer following the corresponding window timeout. If either of the NAT pools are used to frontend any of the on-premises servers and if the corresponding connectivity were to fail, the on-premises servers cannot be reached from Azure until the connectivity is fixed.

Whereas with the option 2, the NAT is reachable even after a primary or secondary connection failure. Therefore, the network layer itself can reroute the packets and help faster recovery following the failure.

Note

If you use NAT option 1 (independent NAT pools for primary and secondary ExpressRoute connections) and map a port of an IP address from one of the NAT pool to an on-premises server, the server will not be reachable via the ExpressRoute circuit when the corresponding connection fails.

Fine-tuning features for private peering

In this section, let us review optional (depending on your Azure deployment and how sensitive you're to MTTR) features that help improve high availability of your ExpressRoute circuit. Specifically, let's review zone-aware deployment of ExpressRoute virtual network gateways, and Bidirectional Forwarding Detection (BFD).

Availability Zone aware ExpressRoute virtual network gateways

An Availability Zone in an Azure region is a combination of a fault domain and an update domain. If you opt for zone-redundant Azure IaaS deployment, you may also want to configure zone-redundant virtual network gateways that terminate ExpressRoute private peering. To learn further, see About zone-redundant virtual network gateways in Azure Availability Zones. To configure zone-redundant virtual network gateway, see Create a zone-redundant virtual network gateway in Azure Availability Zones.

Improving failure detection time

ExpressRoute supports BFD over private peering. BFD reduces detection time of failure over the Layer 2 network between Microsoft Enterprise Edge (MSEEs) and their BGP neighbors on the on-premises side from about 3 minutes (default) to less than a second. Quick failure detection time helps hastening failure recovery. To learn further, see Configure BFD over ExpressRoute.

Next steps

In this article, we discussed how to design for high availability of an ExpressRoute circuit connectivity. An ExpressRoute circuit peering point is pinned to a geographical location and therefore could be impacted by catastrophic failure that impacts the entire location.

For design considerations to build geo-redundant network connectivity to Microsoft backbone that can withstand catastrophic failures, which impact an entire region, see Designing for disaster recovery with ExpressRoute private peering.