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The EIGRP (Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol) metric

EIGRP (Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol) is a network protocol that lets routers exchange information more efficiently than was the case with older routing protocols. EIGRP which is a proprietary protocol evolved from IGRP (Interior Gateway Routing Protocol) and routers using either EIGRP and IGRP can interoperate because the metric (criteria used for selecting a route) used with one protocol can be translated into the metrics of the other protocol. It is this metric which we will examine in more detail.

Using EIGRP, a router keeps a copy of its neighbour’s routing tables. If it can’t find a route to a destination in one of these tables, it queries its neighbours for a route and they in turn query their neighbours until a route is found. When a routing table entry changes in one of the routers, it notifies its neighbours of the change. To keep all routers aware of the state of neighbours, each router sends out a periodic “hello” packet. A router from which no “hello” packet has been received in a certain period of time is assumed to be inoperative.

EIGRP uses the Diffusing-Update Algorithm (DUAL) to determine the most efficient (least cost) route to a destination. A DUAL finite state machine contains decision information used by the algorithm to determine the least-cost route (which considers distance and whether a destination path is loop-free).

Figure 1

The Diffusing Update Algorithm (DUAL) is a modification of the way distance-vector routing typically works that allows the router to identify loop free failover paths.  This concept is easier to grasp if you imagine it geographically. Consider the map of the UK midlands shown in Figure1. The numbers show approximate travel distance, in miles. Imagine that you live in Glasgow. From Glasgow, you need to determine the best path to Hull. Imagine that each of Glasgow’s neighbours advertises a path to Hull. Each neighbour advertises its cost (travel distance) to get to Hull. The cost from the neighbour to the destination is called the advertised distance. The cost from Glasgow itself is called the feasible distance.
In this example, Newcastle reports that if Glasgow routed to Hull through Newcastle, the total cost (feasible distance) is 302 miles, and that the remaining cost once the traffic gets to Newcastle is only 141 miles. Table1 shows distances reported from Glasgow to Hull going through each of Glasgow’s neighbours.

Table 1

Glasgow will select the route with the lowest feasible distance which is the path through Newcastle.

If the Glasgow-Newcastle road were to be closed, Glasgow knows it may fail over to Carlisle without creating a loop. Notice that the distance from Carlisle to Hull (211 miles) is less than the distance from Glasgow to Hull (302 miles). Because Carlisle is closer to Hull, routing through Hull does not involve driving to Carlisle and then driving back to Glasgow (as it would for Ayr). Carlisle is a guaranteed loop free path.

The idea that a path through a neighbour is loop free if the neighbour is closer is called the feasibility requirement and can be restated as “using a path where the neighbour’s advertised distance is less than our feasible distance will not result in a loop.”

The neighbour with the best path is referred to as the successor. Neighbours that meet the feasibility requirement are called feasible successors. In emergencies, EIGRP understands that using feasible successors will not cause a routing loop and instantly switches to the backup paths.

Notice that Ayr is not a feasible successor. Ayr’s AD (337) is higher than Newcastle’s FD (302). For all we know, driving to Hull through Ayr involves driving from Glasgow to Ayr, then turning around and driving back to Glasgow before continuing on to Hull (in fact, it does). Ayr will still be queried if the best path is lost and no feasible successors are available because potentially there could be a path that way; however, paths that do not
meet the feasibility requirement will not be inserted into the routing table without careful consideration.

EIGRP uses a sophisticated metric that considers bandwidth, load, reliability and delay. That metric is:

256, *, left(K_1, *, bandwidth ,+, dfrac {K_2 ,*, bandwidth}{256 - load}, +, K_3 ,*, delayright), *,dfrac {K_5}{reliability ,+, K_4}

Although this equation looks intimidating, a little work will help you understand the maths and the impact the metric has on route selection.

You first need to understand that EIGRP selects path based on the fastest path. To do that it uses K-values to balance bandwidth and delay. The K-values are constants that are used to adjust the relative contribution of the various parameters to the total metric. In other words, if you wanted delay to be much more relatively important than bandwidth, you might set K3 to a much larger number.

You next need to understand the variables:

  • Bandwidth—Bandwidth is defined as (100 000 000 / slowest link in the path) kbps. Because routing protocols select the lowest metric, inverting the bandwidth (using it as the divisor) makes faster paths have lower costs.
  • Load and reliability—Load and reliability are 8-bit calculated values based on the performance of the link. Both are multiplied by a zero K-value, so neither is used.
  • Delay—Delay is a constant value on every interface type, and is stored in terms of microseconds. For example, serial links have a delay of 20,000 microseconds and Ethernet lines have a delay of 1000 microseconds. EIGRP uses the sum of all delays along the path, in tens of microseconds.

By default, K1=K3=1 and K2=K4=K5=0. Those who followed the maths will note that when K5=0 the metric is always zero. Because this is not useful, EIGRP simply ignores everything outside the parentheses. Therefore, given the default K-values the equation becomes:

256, *, left(1, *, bandwidth ,+, dfrac {0 ,*, bandwidth}{256 - load}, +, 1 ,*, delayright), *,dfrac {0}{reliability ,+, 0}

Substituting the earlier description of variables, the equation becomes 100,000,000 divided by the chokepoint bandwidth plus the sum of the delays:

256, *, left(dfrac {10^7}{min(bandwidth)}, +,sum,dfrac {delays}{10}right)

As a final note, it is important to remember that routers running EIGRP will not become neighbours unless they share K-values. That said however you really should not change the K-values from the default without a compelling reason.

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