What is a Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter anyway?

What is a Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter anyway?

A question often asked is, “What is the Microsoft Cluster Virtual Adapter and what can I do with it?” The typical, and correct answer, is to leave it alone and let it just work for you. While that answer satisfies most, others may want just a little more by way of an explanation, so hopefully, this blog will provide that.

The networking model in Windows Server 2008 Failover Clustering was rewritten to accommodate new functionality which included being able to obtain IP addresses from DHCP servers and being able to locate Cluster nodes on separate, routed subnets. Additionally, communications went from being UDP Broadcast transmissions to UDP Unicast with a smattering of TCP connections thrown in for good measure. What this all adds up to is more reliable and robust communication connectivity within the Cluster, no matter where the Cluster nodes were located. It no longer matters if Cluster nodes are located in the same physical rack in the same datacenter or in a server rack in a server room in a remote datacenter located at the end of an OC3 WAN connection. This now makes the Cluster more tolerant of single points of failure, e.g. Network Interface Card (NIC) card (and hence the new driver name ‘Network Fault-Tolerant or NetFT.sys). The only real minimum requirement is multiple (at least two), redundant communication paths between all nodes in the Cluster. This way, the Cluster network driver (NETFT.SYS) could build a complete routing structure to provide the redundant communication connectivity the Cluster would need to keep applications and services highly available.

Note: Not having at least two networks available for cluster communications will result in a Warning (violation of a ‘best practice’) being recorded during the Cluster validation process. This is noted in the hardware requirements under Network Adapters and cable section.

To provide some examples of this new functionality and still not get deep into the new networking model, I generated a cluster log from a cluster node so I could illustrate how this new network model is reflected as the cluster service starts. In the cluster log, several entries are associated with NETFT. Some of these include, but may not be limited to, the following:

NETFT – Network Fault-Tolerant
TM – Topology Manager (discovers and maintains the cluster network topology. Reports failures of any networks or network interfaces. configures the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter)
IM – Interface Manager (Responsible for any network interfaces that are part of a cluster configuration)
NETFTAPI – NETFT Application Programming Interface (API)
FTI – Fault-Tolerant Interface

As the cluster service starts, there are events registered indicating NETFT is preparing for communications with other pieces of the cluster architecture –

00000784.000007cc::2009/01/30-14:26:38.199 INFO [NETFT] FTI NetFT event handler ready for events.
00000784.000007b0::2009/01/30-14:26:39.369 INFO [NETFT] Starting NetFT eventing for TM
00000784.000007b0::2009/01/30-14:26:39.369 INFO [NETFT] TM NetFT event handler ready for events.
00000784.000007b0::2009/01/30-14:26:39.369 INFO [CS] Starting IM
00000784.000007b0::2009/01/30-14:26:39.369 INFO [NETFT] Starting NetFT eventing for IM
00000784.000007b0::2009/01/30-14:26:39.369 INFO [NETFT] IM NetFT event handler ready for events.

As connectivity is established with other nodes in the cluster, routes are added –

00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO [NETFT] Added route <struct mscs::FaultTolerantRoute>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <realLocal>172.16.0.181:~3343~</realLocal>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <realRemote>172.16.0.182:~3343~</realRemote>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <virtualLocal>fe80::2474:73f1:4b12:8096:~3343~</virtualLocal>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <virtualRemote>fe80::8b6:30ea:caa3:8da7:~3343~</virtualRemote>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <Delay>1000</Delay>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <Threshold>5</Threshold>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <Priority>99</Priority>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO <Attributes>1</Attributes>
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.744 INFO </struct mscs::FaultTolerantRoute>

Additional events are registered as the routes to the nodes become ‘reachable’ –

00000784.0000039c::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 DBG [NETFTAPI] Signaled NetftRemoteReachable event, local address 172.16.0.181:003853 remote address 172.16.0.182:003853
00000784.0000039c::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 DBG [NETFTAPI] Signaled NetftRemoteReachable event, local address 172.16.0.181:003853 remote address 172.16.0.182:003853
00000784.0000039c::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 DBG [NETFTAPI] Signaled NetftRemoteReachable event, local address 172.16.0.181:003853 remote address 172.16.0.182:003853
00000784.000004f4::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [FTI] Got remote route reachable from netft evm. Setting state to Up for route from 172.16.0.181:~3343~ to 172.16.0.182:~3343~.
00000784.000002f4::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [IM] got event: Remote endpoint 172.16.0.182:~3343~ reachable from 172.16.0.181:~3343~
00000784.000002f4::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [IM] Marking Route from 172.16.0.181:~3343~ to 172.16.0.182:~3343~ as up
00000784.000001f8::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [TM] got event: Remote endpoint 172.16.0.182:~3343~ reachable from 172.16.0.181:~3343~
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [FTW] NetFT is ready after 0 msecs wait.
00000784.00000648::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [FTI] Route is up and NetFT is ready. Connecting to node W2K8-CL2 on virtual IP fe80::8b6:30ea:caa3:8da7%15:~3343~
00000784.0000061c::2009/01/30-14:26:39.759 INFO [CONNECT] fe80::8b6:30ea:caa3:8da7%15:~3343~: Established connection to remote endpoint fe80::8b6:30ea:caa3:8da7%15:~3343~.

A consequence of the changes made to the Cluster networking model is the fact that the Cluster network driver now manifests itself as a network adapter, a hidden adapter, but an adapter nonetheless.

image

While this is hidden from normal view (by default) in Device Manager (must select “Show hidden devices” to see it), it is plainly visible when listing the network configuration of a Cluster node using the ipconfig /all command line.

image

Like other adapters, the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter has a MAC address and both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses assigned to it. The IPv4 address is an Automatic Private Internet Protocol Addressing (APIPA) address and the IPv6 address is a non-routable Link-Local address, but that does not matter as all cluster communications are tunneled through the networks supported by the physical NICs as shown here using the route information obtained during the cluster service startup.

image

The MAC address that is assigned to the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter is based on the MAC address of one of the physical NICs

image

The Cluster network driver (netft.sys) is a kernel mode driver and is started and stopped by the Cluster Service.

image

The Cluster network driver has an entry under HKLMSystemCurrentControlSetServices.

image

Additionally, there is an entry for the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter in the routing table for each Cluster node. Here are sample outputs for the three sections of the route print command executed on a Cluster node. The first part shows the listing of all the interfaces on the node. Interface 15 is the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter.

image

This next screen shows the IPv4 Route Table which reflects three entries for the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter.

image

And finally, the adapter appears in the IPv6 Route Table (If 15).

image

So, how can one get in trouble? Here are a couple of ways:

  1. Disable the Microsoft Failover Cluster Virtual Adapter.
  2. Sysprep an installation of Windows Server 2008, 2008R2, or 2012 with the Failover Cluster feature installed. This will cause an error in the Cluster Validation Process.  Windows 2012R2 can be sysprepped with the Failover Feature installed.
  3. Modifying any properties of the adapter.

Hopefully, this gives you a better feel for this new functionality in Windows Server 2008 Failover Clusters, and like I stated at the beginning of the blog, the correct answer is to not do anything to the adapter – just let it work for you. Thanks and we hope this has been helpful.

Chuck Timon and John Marlin
Senior Support Escalation Engineers
Microsoft Enterprise Platforms Support