below: the new MikroTik CRS328-4C-20S-4S+RM
A new focus on switching
MikroTik has always been known for very basic switching features and had switches that were functional, but the software for VLAN tagging was fairly complex and thus CRS switches did not see nearly as much action as RouterBoard and CCR models until recently.
We had an opportunity at the 2018 European MikroTik User Meeting (or MUM) in Berlin, Germany to speak with MikroTik’s development team for switching and it’s clear they’ve been busy based on all the new switch models announced this year along with 40 Gbps interfaces showing up for the first time.
A new hardware platform
The CRS 3xx series is based on the Marvell Prestera family of ASICs. MikroTik’s software – RouterOS has only scratched the surface of the capabilities of this chipset which are listed below. As of right now, basic MPLS label switching in hardware is supported on the CRS317 switch.
The possibilities for this chipset are almost endless and if fully developed on the software side for RouterOS, it would give MikroTik a significant competitive advantage with some of the lowest cost MPLS/SDN capable hardware with wire speed ASIC based switching.
Entering the Data Center market?
One of the switches announced while we were at the Berlin MUM was the CRS332-32S+RM which is the highest number of 10 gig ports in a product that MikroTik has released so far.
This has a number of applications in ISPs, but it also has a great chance of becoming a low-cost/high volume Data Center switch, especially if more of the advanced L2 Overlay, MPLS and L3 features from the Marvell Prestera chipset are developed.
Improving the configuration of switch ports and VLANs.
RouterOS has come a long way in configuring switching and VLANs and spent a lot of time revamping how this is done.
Many whitebox and metro ethernet platforms use hardware based bridging for configuration and MikroTik has embraced that as well.
Now, to remove confusion about bridging being “software only” and using the switch menu for hardware offload, all of the configuration is done in a Bridge.
It took me a little bit to figure it all out when I first deployed a config on a CRS328, but once I got the hang of it, I like it a lot more than the older style of config.
Andis Arins did a great overview of how the new bridging configuration works at the 2018 Berlin MUM – This was a great tool to help make the transition.
New Switching features in coming 6.43 (currently available in RC)
An overview of some of the new features being tested in RC for 6.43
BPDU Guard is a feature that’s been around in mainstream enterprise switching for a while. Essentially it allows the user to put the port into a state as an edge port that is not intended to connect into a switch.
If Spanning tree BPDUs are detected, the port will be shut down automatically by the OS and typically a log message will be generated as to the reason for disabling the port. This allows for the protection of a switched network against loops or other misbehavior from rogue or misconfigured switches.
DHCP Option 82
Again, this is a feature that isn’t new by a long shot, but having it available in a switch that’s so inexpensive is a huge win. DHCP Option 82 is specified in RFC 3046.
Option 82 allows DHCP to exchange information with a switch and get information about the port and VLAN and has the capability to inform the switch as to which VLAN a host machine, Access Point or SIP Phone should be on.
With the addition of expanded PoE options in the CRS switches, this gives MikroTik more of a chance to compete in SMB and SME environments.
DHCP Snooping allows the switch to monitor the assignment of a DHCP leased IP address with a connected end host and provide that information in the switch.
This allows for faster troubleshooting and better visibility into DHCP issues.
More to come
One of the features we’ve talked to MikroTik development about repeatedly is the concept of switch stacking which allows two switches to operate as one from a Layer 2 and STP perspective.
It also allows for LACP channels to be built across more than one hardware chassis so that redundancy and aggregated throughput can be combined.
From what we’ve been able to find out, MikroTik is working on switch stacking, but it may be a while before we see it in an RC version as the coding is fairly complex.
It will be exciting to see what happens between now and the first of the year in switching as MikroTik has definitely invested a great deal of time and resources into becoming competitive in economical high-performance switches and is starting to catch up on feature sets that put them in a position to have feature parity with mainstream switching vendors.