You are on page 1of 65

NSX DFW architecture:

The vCenter, NSX Manager and ESXi host are functioning as the 3 main components in this architecture.

DFW Architecture

NSX Manager: The NSX manager provides the single point of configuration and the REST API entry-points in a vSphere environment
for NSX. The consumption of NSX can be driven directly via the NSX manager UI. In a vSphere environment this is available via the
vSphere Web UI itself. Typically end-users tie in the network virtualization to their cloud management platform for deploying applications.
vCenter: VMware vCenter Server provides a centralized platform for managing your VMware vSphere environments so you can
automate and deliver a virtual infrastructure with confidence.
ESXi host: VMware ESXi is the hypervisor running the virtual machines guest OS. DFW related modules:

vShiled-Statefull-Firewal service daemon run in the user space


vSIP run in the kernel space.

vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: Service demon Runs constantly on the ESXi host and performs multiple tasks:
1. Interact with NSX Manager to retrieve DFW policy rules.
2. Gather DFW statistics information and send them to the NSX Manager.
3. Send audit logs information to the NSX Manager.
4. Receive configuration from NSX manager to create (or delete) DLR Control VM, create (or delete) ESG.
5. Part of the host preparation process SSL related tasks from NSX manager

Message Bus Client: The NSX Manager communicates with the ESXi host using a secure protocol called AMQP.
Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) is an open standard application layer protocol for message-oriented middleware. The
defining features of AMQP are message orientation, queuing, routing (including point-to-point and publish-and-subscribe), reliability and
RabbitMQ is the NSX AMQP implementation.
The vShiled-Statefull-Firewal is acting as a RabbitMQ Client in the ESXi. The vShiled-Statefull-Firewal is a user space
service daemon and uses a TCP/5671 connection to the RabbitMQ server in the NSXmanager. The message bus is
used by the NSX Manager to send various informations to the ESXi hosts:
Policy rules for the DFW module, controller nodes IP addresses, private key and host certificate to authenticate the
communication between host and controller and requests to create/delete DLRinstances.
vSIP: VMware Internetworking Service Insertion Platform. This is the distributed
firewall kernelspace module core component. The vSIP receives firewall rules from NSX manager (through vShiledStatefull-Firewal) and downloads them down to each VM VMware-sfw.

Note: VMware Internetworking Service-Insertion Platform is also a framework that provides the ability to dynamically
introduce 3 party and VMwares own virtual as well as physical security and networking services into VMware virtual
VPXA: A vCenter agent, installed on the ESXi host when the vCenter communicates with the ESXi host for first time.

With the VPXA the vCenter manage the ESXi host for vSphere related tasks.Although it is not a direct part of the DFW architecture the VPXA is
being used to report the VM IP address with VMtools.

IOChains: VMware have a reserved IOchains handle packet process at the Kernel level.
Slot 0: DVFilter (Distributed Virtual Filter):

Distributed Virtual Filter DVFilteris is the VMkernel between the protected vNIC at SLOT 0 associated Distributed
Virtual Switch (DVS) port, and is instantiated when a virtual machine with a protected virtual NIC gets created. It
monitors the incoming and outgoing traffic on the protected virtual NIC and performs stateless filtering.
Slot 1: sw-sec (Switch Security): sw-sec module learns VMs IP and MAC address. sw-secis critical component capture
DHCP Ack and ARP broadcast message and forward this info as unicast to NSX Controller to perform the ARP suppression feature. swsec is the layer where NSX IP spoofgurd is implemented,
Slot-2: VMware-sfw: This is the place where DFW firewall rules are stored and enforced,VMware-sfw contains rules table and
connections table.

NSX policy push process:

We create a security policy with vCenter GUI, this configuration then stored inside NSX manager. When we push the policy NSX
Manager Will sends firewall rules in protobuf format to all vSphere clusters.
Protocol Buffers are a method of serializing structured data. As such, they are useful in developing programs to communicate with each
other over a wire or for storing data. The method involves an interface description language that describes the structure of some data and a
program that generates from that description source code in various programming languages for generating or parsing a stream of bytes that
represents the structured data.
All ESXi host part from vCenter cluster will receive this policy with vShiled-Statefull-Firewal daemonover the message bus.At this point vShiledStatefull-Firewal need to parse this rules and convert them from protobuf messages into the vmkernel vSIPIOCTL format, then vSIP will apply the
rules on every VMs SLOT 2 VMware-sfw.
Note: This process flow describe Applied To filed in security policy is Distributed Firewall = rule applied everywhere.
A security administrator can create firewall rules built from vCenter objects like:
Cluster, DC, VDS port-group, Logical Switch, IPSets, Resource Pool, vAPP, VM, vNIC and Security Groups. The NSX firewall enforce
point at the VMware-sfw can only understand IP address or MAC address.

In figure shows below we create a firewall rule to allow ICMP Source Compute Cluster A toDestination Compute Cluster B:

Policy push process

The NSX Manager will need to figure out what are the object IDs represented by Compute Cluster A and Compute Cluster B and then
reveal what the IP address correspond to those VMs.
The NSX firewall rules inside ESXi host are created as VSIPIOCTL format and then applied on theVMware-sfw.
The NSX manager relies on the vCenter internal database to get object-ID/IP address mapping, we can view the data
with the vCenter MOB (Managed Object Browser) Using this url:https://vCenter_IP/mob/
The NSX manager keeps this info inside his internal database.
The vCenter server represents any object with a unique id. For example Compute Cluster A in fact equals to domain-c25 and Compute Cluster
B equal to domain-c26. Here is screenshots from vCenter MOB:

NSX DFW and VMtools:

The NSX (up to current version 6.1.3) relies on the VMtools to learn the IP address of the Guest OS. The IP address learned from
the VMtools is stored in the vCenter database and reported to NSX manager. We can tell if VMtools reports the IP address in VM Summery

To view the vm-id we can be retrieve using vCenter at the following path:
https://<vCenter server>/mob and select content -> rootFolder -> childEntity -> vmFolder.

To view the VMs IP address go to click on the vm-id from the list above, for example vm-36 (web-sv-01a).
GuestInfo -> Net
In vCenter MOB web-sv-01a has Object ID: vm-36 with IP address

If the VMTools was stopped or removed the vCenter removes the IP address entry immediately. An updatenotification will send to NSX manager cause
to firewall module send a list updates to all the vShiled-Statefull-Firewal processes using protobuf format. If we configure firewall rules using vCenter
objects (not IP address) as show in screenshot below, there will be a match on the last firewall rule (most of the time called catch-all rule).

If this rule configure to block (as in this example) then this VM will be blocked from the network, but if this rules send the permit then the VM
gets a full network access, which allows the user to bypass security policy.

Spoofguard: NSX feature that we can use to eliminate the need of VMtools to learn the VM IP address but this will be address in a different blog post.

NSX Firewall and vMotion:

vMotion: enables to move a VM from one ESXi host to another while this VM is powered on and connected to network in vSphere environment.
This feature can be managed automatic by the vSphere DRS mechanism or manually by the vSphere administrator.
As we saw in the NSX DFW architecture for each VM we have two separate tables:

DFW table: Contains the firewall rules.

DFW Connection table: Contains the live active (approved) connection passing through this VM. When VM1
vMotion process starts these two tables will follow the VM1 movement over the vMotion link.

NSX dFW vMotion

When the vMotion process completes the VM1 will land at esxcomp-01b and have same firewall rules and same connection
table and as a result theres no traffic disruption for VM1.

NSX dFW after vMotion

Note: The NSX Manager is not involved in this vMotion since we dont use the Applied To feature (Explained later).

NSX Firewall Applied To:

By default when were creating a firewall rule in NSX, the Applied to field is set to Distributed Firewall. The
firewall rule will be stored in NSX managers database and will be applied to all VMsvNICs, regardless of the
VMs location. Its important to mention that even when dFW rule is applied to all VMs, we still need a match on
source/destination to take action on that rules.
The Applied To field is determined by vSphere objects: Cluster, Datacenter, vDS Distributed PortGroup, Logical
Switch, Edge, Host system, Security Group, VM, or even vNIC!

NSX Apply To option

When we start using the Applied To field, NSX Manager will map the Applied To object to the
corresponding vSphere cluster. Only ESXi hosts in the cluster will receive this rule.
Each ESXi host that receives this rule will use vShiled-Statefull-Firewal demon to parse it and figure out which VMs
need to apply it. When using the Applied To field, the perimeter scope limit is thevSphere Cluster.
The shows below Rule ID 1002 in which weve configured Applied To Distributed Firewall. (Default behavior)

When we will push this firewall rule, NSX manager will send this rule to all vSphere clusters.
As a result: all VMs will get rule id 1002 at their vNic level.

Continue our example we add another rules ID 1005 in which we use the Applied To on web-sv-01aand web-sv-01b. Rule ID 1002 stay the
same with Applied To Distributed Firewall.

Assuming we have the following machines: web-sv-01a, web-sv-02a, app-sv-01A and sec-mgr-01a. And weve configured the rules above.
If web-sv-01a and app-sv-01A is part of Computer Cluster A, web-sv-02a is part of Computer Cluster B and sec-mgr-01a run in Management
Edge Cluster.
Now when we push this policy the NSX Manager need will figure rules boundaries for each cluster.

Base this rules calculation NSX manager will push the firewall update to only to Compute Cluster A and Compute Cluster B ,
Management Edge Cluster will not receive any update because is not any vSphere object part of the Applied To filed. When Compute
Cluster A received this rule firewall update vSIP kernel module will need to pars which VM will need to apply rule 1005. only web-sv-01a
will get update new rule id 1005 In addition to old rule id 1002. VM name app-sv-01a will not get any firewall rule update. When Compute
Cluster B received the rule update all ESXi host will get the firewall update inside the cluster, vSIP demon will parse it but only the ESXi
host run VM name we-sv-01b will applied rule id 1005.


To benefits:

Reduce the amount of rules per VMware-sfw, this improves efficiency because the DFW will have less rules to evaluate for every new
In case of an overlap IP address within multi-tenancy environment we must use Applied To to distinguish between one tenant and others.

Cross cluster vMotion with Apply To:

When we do use the Applied To feature and the VM traffic perform a vMotion across clusters then the NSX
Manger will be involved in the process to update destination VM cluster with the relevant firewall rules. The NSX
manager must be up to complete this operation.
For example VM name web-sv-01a need to vMotion from Compute cluster A to Management Edge Cluster,
vCenter will send vMotion notification to NSX Manager, as a results NSX Manager will trigger policy push to all ESXi
host in Management Edge Cluster. web-sv-01a will get same rule before vMotion occur with just change in the
domain object from domain-c25 to domain-c7

If the NSX Manager is down, No update rule will be push! When VM land on destination cluster no VM specific rule
apply for that VM. Its important to note that when the NSX manager is down all existing VMs forwarding plane with
DFW rules continue to work, only New VMs cannot have firewall rules until NSX Manager come back.
The NSX DFW keeps the rule table as a .dat file at the ESXi host at the following path:

/etc/vmware/vShiled-Statefull-Firewal/vsipfw_ruleset.dat .
Created in the cloud with Saaspose.Words.

NSX L2 to L4 Firewall:
The VMware NSX DFW can enforce security policy from L2 (Data Link Layer) to L4 (Transport Layer).
With L2 we can create DFW rules base on the MAC address or L2 protocol like: ARP,RARP,LLDP.
L3/L4 security rules can be enforced with a source/destination IP address or TCP/UDP ports.

VMware have list of 3-Party vendor (constantly growing list)

Default Policy:

The DFW enforce L2 rules before L3.

L2 Default policy: Fresh DFW installations will have a default policy, Which is a L2 policy with Source:
Any, Destination: Any, Action: Allow

L3 Default Policy:
We have a default L3 policy with Source: Any, Distention: Any, Action: Allow

DFW Exclusion functionality:

Working on daily tasks with firewalls can sometimes lead to a situation where you end up
blocking your access to the firewall management.
Regardless of the vendor you are working with, this is very challenging situation.
The end result of this scenario is that you are unable to access the firewall management to remove the
rules that are blocking you from reaching the firewall management!
Think of a situation where you deploy a distributed firewall into each of your ESX hosts in a cluster,
including the management cluster where you have your vCenter server located.
And then you change the default rule from the default Allow value to Block (as shownbelow):

What youve done by implementing this rule, can be shown in the following figure:

Like the poor guy above dropping himself from his tree, by implementing this rule, you have blocked
yourself from managing your vCenter.

OR: How can we protect ourselves from this situation?
Put your vCenter (and other critical virtual machines) in an exclusion list.
Any VM on that list will not receive any distributed firewall rules.
Go to the Network & security tab Click on NSX Manager

Exclusion VM list 1
Double click on the IP address object. In my example it is

Click on Manage:

Go in the Exclusion List tab and click on the green plus button.

Choose your virtual machine.

Thats it! Now your VC is excluded from any enforced firewall rules.

Exclusion VM list 6
Restoring default firewall rules set:
We can use the NSX Manager REST API to revert to the default firewall rules set to overcome amistake when we do
not yet have access to the VC.

Perform a configuration backup at this stage.

By default the NSX Manager is automatically excluded from DFW, so it is always possible to send API calls to it.
Using a REST Client or cURL:
Submit a DELETE request to:

After receiving the expected code status 204 we will revert to the default DFW policy with default
rule set to allow.

Now we can access our VC! . As we can see, we reverted to the default policy, but dont panic
saved the policy.

as we

Click on the Load Saved Configuration button.

Load Saved Configuration before the last Saved.

Note: Every time we push dFW policy NSX automaticly save the policy. We have limit of 50 versions.

Accept the warning by click Yes.

Now we have our last policy before we blocked our VC, its loaded but not applied.

We will need to change the last Rule from Block to Allow to fix the problem.

And Click Publish the Changes.

Its not possible to disable the DFW functionality per vNIC, Exclusion List only allows to disable DFW functionality per VM.

The following list is automatically excluded from DFW functions, by default: The NSX Manager, NSX Controllers, Edge Service Gateway
and Service VM (PAN FW for instance).

NSX and Application Level


Application Level Gateway (ALG) is the ability of a firewall or a NAT device that can either allow or block applications that uses dynamic
ephemeral ports to communicate. In the absence of ALG, it could be a nightmare for security and network administrators with the options of trade
off between communication and security. A network administrator can suggest opening a large number of ports which would pose security threat
for the network or the given server while a security administrator can suggest blocking all other ports except the known ports which again breaks
the communication.ALG reads the network address found inside the application payload and opening respective ports for preceding
communication and also synchronizing data across multiple sessions across different ports. For example: FTP uses different ports for session
initiation/control connection and actual data transfers. An ALG would manage any information passed on the control connection as well as data
connection in the above case.NSX-v acts as ALG for few protocols such as FTP, CIFS, ORACLE TNS, MS-RPC, SUN-RPC.

NSX DFW logs:

In NSX we have three different log types: System Events, Rule Events and Audit Messages andhost Flows.

NSX Manager System Events

NSX Manager System Events are related to NSX operation like: FW configuration applied, Fail to publish FW
configuration, Filter created, Filter deleted, VM added to Security Group.
For each System event have severity level:
To view the NSX System Events Go to Network & Security -> NSX Managers Click on the NSX Manager IP
address -> Monitor -> System Events
Here is example for Critical event polled by NSX manager.

This event indicate vShiled-Statefull-Firewal demon went down on ESXi host id host-38.
We can view system event from the ESXi host itself. Here is example for FW configurationevents can be view vShiled-StatefullFirewal.log. this event cuase by policy push from theNSX manager to ESXi host. The file location is: var/log/vShiled-StatefullFirewal.log
Example for output:
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received vsa message of RuleSet, length 67
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Processed vsa message RuleSet: 67
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] L2 rule optimization is enabled
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] applying firewall config to vnic list on host host-10
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Enabling TCP strict policy for default drop rule.
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] sending event: applied vmware-sfw ruleset 1425955389291 for vnic 500e519a-87fd-4acdcee2-c97c2c6291ad.000
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] successfully saved config to file /etc/vmware/vShiled-Statefull-Firewal/vsipfw_ruleset.dat
2015-03-10T02:43:12Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Sending vsa reply of domain-c7 host host-10: 0

NSX Manager Audit Events:

This log contains all the events related to: Admin login, FW configuration changes (pre and post change of the DFW rule).
To view the Audit Events Go to Network & Security -> NSX Managers Click on the NSX Manager IP address -> Monitor
-> Audit Logs.
Here is Example for User bob login to system:

ESXi DFW host Rules Messages:

This log contains all the events related to: The DFW has dedicated log file (introduced in version 6.1) to view
start/termination session and drop/pass packets. This logs contains the rule id associatedvCenter objects.
File name is: dfwpktlogs.log
File location on the ESXi host: /var/log/dfwpktlogs.log
A log example: more /var/log/dfwpktlogs.log
2015-03-10T03:22:22.671Z INET match DROP domain-c7/1002 IN 242 UDP>

1002 is the DFW rule-id

domain-c7 is cluster ID in the vCenter MOB. is the source IP destination IP

To view the Log filled we need to enable the Log option field.

By default when we create DFW rule there is no logging enabled. Logging occurs only afterwe enable the Log field on the firewall
rules table

In order to see Allow or Block packet in the DFW logs files we need to change the Logfield from Do not log to Log.
In the following example were changing the last rule id 1002 from Do no log to Log:

In the next example for DFW log event we will see the results of a ping from my Control VM Management IP to
~ # tail -f /var/log/dfwpktlogs.log | grep
2015-03-10T03:20:31.274Z INET match DROP domain-c27/1002 IN 60 PROTO 1>
2015-03-10T03:20:35.794Z INET match DROP domain-c27/1002 IN 60 PROTO 1>

Live Flows:
With DFW we have ability to view live flows. These flows are pulled by the vShiled-Statefull-Firewalfrom the VSIP kernel module and aggregated
appropriately. The NSX Manager pulls normal flows from vShiled-Statefull-Firewal every 5 minutes and realtime flows every 5 secs.

Enable the Flow Monitoring by clicking on Flow Monitoring -> Configuration and click on the Enable. Global Flow
Collection should change to green, Enabled status

To View the vNIC flow go to Live Flow tab and browse for a specific VM and vNIC.

Click the start button

Live flow will show up in the screen. The refresh Rate is 5 second.

From ESXi host the vShiled-Statefull-Firewal.log file we can see the related events:
2015-03-18T03:20:01Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received vsa message of FlowConfiguration, length 120
2015-03-18T03:20:01Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Processed vsa message FlowConfiguration: 120
2015-03-18T03:20:01Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Loaded flow config: [120]
2015-03-18T03:21:29Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received message in request queue of topicFlowRequest
2015-03-18T03:21:29Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received vsa message of FlowRequest, length 52
2015-03-18T03:21:29Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Processed vsa message FlowRequest: 52
2015-03-18T03:21:29Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] rmqRealTimeFlowDataRetrieve started
2015-03-18T03:21:29Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Done with configuring start of real time flows
2015-03-18T03:21:29Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] rmqRealTimeFlowDataPush started

Service Composer:
Service Composer helps you to provision and assign network and security services to applications in a virtual infrastructure.
You map these services to a security group, and the services are applied to the virtual machines in the security group

Security group

With NSX DFW we have the ability to group vCenter elements such as VMs to container called security groups. Base
of this security groups we can built DFW rules. The of what vSphere object can be part of the security group can be
dynamic or static.
Security group can be consume directly in to firewall tab without use the service composer.

Security Group = (Dynamic Inclusion + Static Inclusion) Static Exclusion

Creating Security groups base of VM name example:
Go to Network & Security -> Service Composer -> Security Groups

Dynamic inclusion:
A list of dynamic options for inclusion.
In the example below we chose VM name for any VM contains the word web:

Static Inclusion:
We can select the object type that we want to (permanently) include as part of this security group.
With static inclusion we can create nested security groups.

Nested groups are group inside groups.

In the following example we will not exclude any object:

Static exclusion:
We can select what is the object type we want to permanently exclude as part of this security group.

Summary of Security Group:

We can view the security group object members from the Security Groups tab.
In our example, the Web Servers security has two VMs: web-sv-01 and web-sv-02a and this group membership is
handled dynamically because the criteria is that they have web as part of their VM name.
If a new VM, called web-sv-03a is being created in this vCenter it will automatically be part of this security group.

Security policy using security groups:

We can create a firewall rule that leverage this new security group:
Source can be any and destination will be the Web Servers security group.

The service can be one L4 service or group of services, here we chose HTTPS.

We can apply this policy to any cluster running NSX Distributed Firewall.
We can apply this policy on security groups, which will result in the rule (policy) applied only to VMsthat are part of
this security groups.

The security rule:

vSphere environments are dynamic by nature. When new VMs join (or leave) a security group (ex.Web Servers) the vCenter will update his
database and as a result an update notification will be sentto the NSX manager. This notification will trigger a list of updates to the VMs that
are part of this security group due to being part of the Applied To. Security administrator do not need to constantly update the policy
rules for every time new VMs join or leave the network. NSX firewall policy canautomatically reflect these changes and this is the reason using
vCenter objects is so powerful

Security tag:
To keep the virtualization flexibility, without compromise security, VMware invented security tag.
By adding new tag attribute to VMs we can apply security policy. Adding or removing tag to
VM canbe done dynamically by automation, 3-Party or even manual.

We can use the example we used above in which we created a security group called Web Servers, but rather
than use a VM name containing web as the criteria for this VM group membership, we can attach a security tag to
this VM.
Create Manual Security tag:

Create the security tag name:

We have a user defined security tag with 0 VM count:

Manual apply Security Tag:

Select the web servers security tag name and right click.

Filter web from the list and choose web-sv-01a and web-sv-02a from list:

Now we can modify the Web servers security policy to use a dynamic including criteria:

After this changed we have two VM count with security tag web servers.

The security groups Web servers contains the VM names: web-sv-01a and web-sv-02a.

In the VMs summary page we can see the security tags that are applied to this VM and to which security group this
VM belongs. From the web-sv-01a example:

Security Policy:
Using security policy we can create templates containing DFW policy approved security admin this is how you want
to protect your environment, then apply this on security groups WHAT you want to protect. Security policy
may contain traffic redirection rules to 3rd-party vendors for service chaining.
Security policy is part of the service composer building blocks.

We can apply a security policy to more than one security group.

In the example below we apply Web Security Policy to both Security Group 1 and Security Group 2.

A different option is to apply two different security policies to same security groups.
This can result in a contradiction between the policies.
For example we apply Security Policy 1 and Security Policy 2 to WEB Security Groups:

The security policy precedency will be with a Weight value, configured by the security admin.
In the following example we demonstrate this when we create two different security policies: Allow ICMP SP and
Allow HTTP SP and apply both to the previously created security group WebServers.
Create Allow ICMP SP:

In create Firewall Rules: The Weight is 4300

The related action is Allow

The source filled is: any

Destination is: Policy Security Groups.

The following is the interesting part: Due to the fact that this security policy works as a template we may reuse it for
different security groups and our goal is to avoid tying this template to a specific security group.
Service: ICMP ECHO Request, ICMP ECHO Replay.

Ready to compute and click Finish:

At the firewall tab we can note that at this stage:

We have not applied this security policy to any security groups and so this policy has not beenactivated yet. We can see it as the gray
policy in the firewall tab.
There is no security group in the designation:

Create Allow WEB SP is the same way:

Notice that the Weight field is 1300, which is lower than the previous Allow ICMP SP 4300.
Cerate the WEB rule (same flow as above):

The firewall policy order shows Allow ICMP before Allow WEB

Now we apply both security policies on the same security group, using Apply Policy:

Choose Allow ICMP Security Policy:

And do the same for the second security policy called Allow WEB SP.
In the Security Policy tab view we can see the results of this action:

From the Firewall tab we can see that now we have two activated service composer security rules.

In the service composer canvas view we have an excellent summery of the security services which were applied

to the security group:

3rd party vendor service integration

The NSX DFW can integrate with 3rd party vendors to achieve a higher level of application securitylevel with
different services. The partner needs to register their service on NSX manager.
We define the traffic redirection policy in service composer.
For example, we can redirect the traffic that leaves/enters the VMs to a third party partner product device for
We can define traffic redirection in two different places.

Using Partner Security Service:

In this example with a Palo Alto firewall we define the any source traffic , designated to PAN-SG-WEB security
group, will be redirected to the PAN firewall:

Using security policy:

We follow the same policy definition construct as DFW (i.e. same options for source field, destination field and
services field) and the only difference is in the action field: instead of Block/Allow/Reject, a user can select between
redirect/no redirect followed by a partner list (any partner that has been registered with NSX and that has been
successfully deployed on the platform).Finally: Log options can be enabled for this traffic redirection rule.

Install NSX DFW:

NSX DFW Pre-requirements:
Table 1 list vSphere pre-requirements for NSX DFW






vSphere Switch

5.5 or


6.0 or

VMtoool must install and run


switch (vDS)
version 5.1 or



on VM guest OS if DFW policy

base on vCenter objects.

VSS is not

VMtools can be Any version


Its imported to mention that NSX DFW can work on VXLAN port-group or VLAN port-group. Enable dFW on vSS is not tested by VMware
and No supported mean if you enable it, it may work.
NSX Controller is not required with DFW. NSX Controller is only required for VXLAN and Logical Distributed Router.

The NSX DFW installation is done through the HOST PREPARATION process.
The NSX Manager triggers the NSX kernel modules installation inside a vSphere cluster and builds the NSX
Control plan fabric.
Note: Before the host preparation process we need to complete the following:

Registering the NSX Manager with vCenter.

Deploying the NSX Controllers.

Three components are involved during the NSX host preparation: vCenter, NSX Manager, EAM (ESX Agent

vCenter Server:
Management of vSphere compute infrastructure.
NSX Manager:
Provides the single point of configuration and REST API entry-points in a vSphere environment for NSX.
EAM (ESX Agent Management):
The middleware component between the NSX Manager and the vCenter. The EAM is part of the vCenter
and is responsible to install the VIBs (vSphere Installation Bundles), which are software packages prepared
to be installed inside an ESXi host.
The host preparation begins when we click the Install button in the vCenter GUI.

This process is done at the vSphere Cluster level and not per ESXi host.
The EAM will create an agent to track the VIBs installation process for each host. The VIBs are being
copied from the NSX Manager and cached in EAM. If the VIBs are not present in the ESXi host, the EAM
will install the VIBs (ESXi host reboot is not needed at the end of this process).

During an NSX software upgrade, the EAM also takes care of removing the installed old version of the
VIBs but an ESXi host reboot is then needed.
VIBs installed during host preparation:



Once the host preparation was successfully completed the ESXi host has a fully working Control Plane.
Two control plan channels will be created:

RabbitMQ (RMQ) Message bus: Provides communication between the vShiled-StatefullFirewal process on the ESXi hypervisor and the NSX Manager over TCP/5671.

User World Agent (UWA) process (netcpa on the ESXi hypervisor): Establishes
TCP/1234connection over SSL communication channels to the Controller Cluster nodes.

Troubleshooing DFW installation:

The NSX DFW installation is actually the host preparation process.

We have few examples for host preparation issues.

DNS Issues:
EAM fails to deploy VIBs due to misconfigured DNS or no DNS configuration on host.
We can verify if those DFW VIBs have been successfully installed by connecting to each ESXi host in the cluster and
issuing the command esxcli software vib list.
~# esxcli software vib list | grep esx-vsip
~ # esxcli software vib list | grep dvfilter
esx-dvfilter-switch-security 5.5.0-0.0.2318233

VMware VMwareCertified 2015-01-24

VMware VMwareCertified 2015-01-24

In this case, we may get a status of Not Ready:

The message clearly indicates Agent VIB module not installed on one or more hosts.
We can check the vSphere ESX Agent Manager for errors:
vCenter home > vCenter Solutions Manager > vSphere ESX Agent Manager
On vSphere ESX Agent Manager, check the status of Agencies prefixed with _VCNS_153. If any of the
agencies has a bad status, select the agency and view its issues:

We need to check the associated log /var/log/esxupdate.log (on the ESXi host) for more details on host
preparation issues.
Log into the ESXi host in which you have the issue, run tail /var/log/esxupdate.log to view the log

From the log it appears suddenly clear that the issues may be related to DNS name resolution.
Configure the DNS settings in the ESXi host for the NSX host preparation to succeed.

TCP/80 from ESXi to vCenter is blocked:

The ESXi host is unable to connect to vCenter EAM on TCP/80:

Could be caused by a firewall blocking communication on this port. From the ESXi host
/var/log/esxupdate.log file:
esxupdate: esxupdate: ERROR: MetadataDownloadError: (http://VC_IP_Address:80/eam/vib?id=xxxxxx-xxx-xxx), None, ( http://VC_IP_Address:80/eam/vib?id=xxx-xxx-xxx-xxx), /tmp/tmp_TKl58,
[Errno 4]IOError: <urlopen error [Errno 111] Connection refused>))

The NSX-v has a list of ports that need to be open in order for the host preparation to succeed.
The complete list can be found in:

Existing VIBs Version

If an old VIBs version exists on the ESXi host, EAM will remove the old VIBs
But the host preparation will not automatically continue.
We will need to reboot the ESXi host to complete the process (this condition will be clearly indicated next
to the host name on vCenter).

ESXi bootbank space issue:

If you try Upgrade ESXi 5.1u1 to ESXi 5.5 and then start NSX host preparation you may face issue and from
/var/log/esxupdate log file you will see message like:
Installationerror: the pending transaction required 240MB free space, however the maximum size is 239
I faced this issue in a customer ISO of IBM blade but may appear in other vendors.
Install fresh ESXi 5.5 Custom ISO. (This is the version I upgraded too)


If the vCenter runs on a Windows machine, other applications can be installed and alreadyusing port 80,
causing a conflict with EAM port tcp/80.
For example: By default IIS server use TCP/80
Use a different port for EAM:
Changed the port to 80 in in

Download VIBs link:

The NSX manager has a direct link to download the VIBs as zip file:


Reverting installation:

Reverting a NSX Prepared ESXi Host requires the following steps:

Remove the host from the vSphere cluster.

Put ESXi host in maintenance mode and remove the ESXi host from the cluster. This will
automatically uninstall NSX VIBs.
Note: ESXi host must be rebooted to complete the operation.
Manually Uninstall VIBs:
The following commands can be entered directly on the ESXi host to remove the installed NSX VIBs:
esxcli software vib remove -n esx-vxlan
esxcli software vib remove -n esx-vsip
esxcli software vib remove -n dvfilter-switch-security
Note: The ESXi host must be rebooted to complete the operation

DFW (UWA) agent issues:

The VIBs installation completes successful but on rare occasions one or both user world agents is not
functioning correctly. This could manifest itself as either:

The firewall showing a bad status Error for example.

The control plane between the hypervisor(s) and the controllers is being down

Validate Message bus service is active on NSX Manager:

Check the messaging bus userworld agent status by running the command/etc/init.d/vShield-StatefulFirewall status on the ESXi hosts

vShiled-Statefull-Firewal is the service daemon part of UWA (User Web Agent) running on ESXi host.
To check if vShiled-Statefull-Firewal daemon is working properly, issue the following CLI

~ # ps | grep vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36169 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36170 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36171 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36172 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36173 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36174 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36175 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36176 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36178 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36179 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal
36909 36169 vShiled-Statefull-Firewal


The ESX shows the threads this way, these are not processes but are threads.
The vShiled-Statefull-Firewal provided activates are performed by several threads:

Firewall Rule publishing, Flow monitoring, NetX config thread, heart beat, threshold monitoring, ipfix, netcpa proxy etc Are all
supported vShiled-Statefull-Firewal activities thatare run by these threads.

Run the below command on the ESXi hosts to check for active messaging bus connection:
esxcli network ip connection list | grep 5671 (Message bus TCP connection)

Please ensure that port 5671 is opened for communication in the any external network firewall.
Logs are recorded under /var/log/vswfd.log. If the Message Bus is communicating properly with the VSM, you should see logs as follows (Heartbeats):
2015-03-10T14:10:34Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received HeartBeart Seq 2545 , Sending response
2015-03-10T15:22:34Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received HeartBeart Seq 2569 , Sending response
2015-03-10T16:34:34Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received HeartBeart Seq 2593 , Sending response
2015-03-10T17:46:34Z vShiled-Statefull-Firewal: [INFO] Received HeartBeart Seq 2617 , Sending response

Since this is a module which operates at the kernel level, it is highly unlikely that the module would fail as it gets loaded as a part of the boot
image. However, in case of any failures of the distributed firewall functionality; for an instance an ESXi host maxed out on the CPU, the traffic
would be blocked by default and packets would start dropping for the VMs which are protected.You can change this default behavior to allow all
traffic to go through using an API call which would allow traffic to go through in the event of failure of distributed firewall:

Configuring Fail-Safe for Distributed Firewall:

PUT https://<nsxmgr fqdn or ip>/api/2.1/app/failsafemode
Request Body: FAIL_OPEN

In event when vShiled-Statefull-Firewal is down:

You would see messaging infrastructure down on host in System Events (with host name)

New rules will not get pushed to the host. DFW UI would indicate last publish operation is pending (as opposed to succeeded true even
if its one out of 100 host that push failed).

In all cases, Enforcement of all/any of already programmed rules will Never stop.

If the vShiled-Statefull-Firewal crashes on the host,

A watchdog process will restart it automatically.

The downtime involved will be not observable as the restart is pretty quick.

Every time a vShiled-Statefull-Firewal restart occurs, the NSX manager is contacted to sync all the rules info to make sure the
state is in sync between the NSX manager and the host.
If the vShiled-Statefull-Firewal is stopped manually on the host (i.e /etc/init.d/vShield-Stateful-Firewall stop). Then there is no attempt to
restart the process.

esxcfg-advcfg -l | grep Rmq

Run this command on the ESXi hosts to show all Rmq variables there should be 16 variable in total
esxcfg-advcfg -g /UserVars/RmqIpAddress
Run this command on the ESXi hosts, it should display the NSX Manager IP address

DFW Kernel Space:

Verify that the Kernel Module was loaded to memory:
VSIP (VMware Internetworking Service Insertion Platform) is the distributed firewall kernel module component
Command to check if distributed firewall kernel module is successfully installed on the host:
~ # vmkload_mod -l | grep vsip
13 452
This command display all IOChains and firewall filter on ESXi host.

Fast Path = traffic filter in the Kernel module

Slow Path = Traffic redirected to 3-Party vendor like PaloAlto . In this screenshot we can see there is no Slow Path.
Filters: tied display for etch vNIC in this esxi host what Slot he belong to.
In Fastpath we can see the filter orders start from SLOT 0 dvfilter-faulter.
~ # summarize-dvfilter
agent: dvfilter-faulter, refCount: 1, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module: dvfilter
agent: ESXi-Firewall, refCount: 5, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module: esxfw
agent: vmware-sfw, refCount: 2, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module: vsip
agent: dvfilter-generic-vmware-swsec, refCount: 2, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module:dvfilter-switch-security
agent: bridgelearningfilter, refCount: 1, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module: vdrb
agent: dvfilter-generic-vmware, refCount: 1, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module: dvfilter-generic-fastpath
agent: dvfg-igmp, refCount: 1, rev: 0x1010000, apiRev: 0x1010000, module: dvfg-igmp
port 50331654 vmk2
vNic slot 0
name: nic-0-eth4294967295-ESXi-Firewall.0

agentName: ESXi-Firewall
state: IOChain Attached
vmState: Detached
failurePolicy: failOpen
slowPathID: none
filter source: Invalid
port 50331655 vmk3
vNic slot 0
name: nic-0-eth4294967295-ESXi-Firewall.0
agentName: ESXi-Firewall
state: IOChain Attached
vmState: Detached
failurePolicy: failOpen
slowPathID: none
filter source: Invalid
world 35677 vmm0:web-sv-02a vcUuid:50 26 b7 4d c5 6c 1e d9-47 c0 09 25 95 80 2f ad
port 50331656 web-sv-02a.eth0
vNic slot 2
name: nic-35677-eth0-vmware-sfw.2
agentName: vmware-sfw
state: IOChain Attached
vmState: Detached
failurePolicy: failClosed
slowPathID: none
filter source: Dynamic Filter Creation
vNic slot 1
name: nic-35677-eth0-dvfilter-generic-vmware-swsec.1
agentName: dvfilter-generic-vmware-swsec
state: IOChain Attached
vmState: Detached
failurePolicy: failClosed
slowPathID: none
filter source: Alternate Opaque Channel

Packet capture command:

When VM connect to Logical switch NSX will implement different IOChains security services in the VM packet flow. Each service represents
with unique slot id.
IN the figure shows below we have VM name Web-sv-01a part of ESXi host name esxcomp-01a.web-sv01a have tree different IOChains before the VM packet get to vDS port-group. ThisIOChains handle VM packet process at the
Kernel level.

Slot 0: DVFilter (Distributed Virtual Filter):

Distributed Virtual Filter DVFilteris is the VMkernel between the protected vNIC at SLOT 0 associated Distributed
Virtual Switch (DVS) port, and is instantiated when a virtual machine with a protected virtual NIC gets created. It
monitors the incoming and outgoing traffic on the protected virtual NIC and performs stateless filtering.
Slot 1: sw-sec (Switch Security): sw-sec module learns VMs IP and MAC address. sw-secis critical component capture
DHCP Ack and ARP broadcast message and forward this info as unicast to NSX Controller to perform the ARP suppression feature. swsec is the layer where NSX IP spoofgurd is implemented,

Slot-2: VMware-sfw: This is the place where DFW firewall rules are stored and enforced, VMware-sfw contains rules table and
connections table.

With vSphere we can capture VMs traffic with command pktcap-uw, for this example we sendcontinuous ping (ICMP echo request) packet
from web-sv-01a. The capture command will need to be place on IOChain SLOT 2 with appropriate filter name for web-sv-01a.
To find the exact filter name we need to use the command summarize-dvfilter.
We can grep the exact name with the A 3 switch mean show 3 line more after the grep term found.
From ESXi host name esxcomp-01a:
~ # summarize-dvfilter | grep web-sv-01a -A 3
world 35682 vmm0:web-sv-01a vcUuid:50 26 c7 cd b6 f3 f4 bc-e5 33 3d 4b 25 5c 62 77
port 50331656 web-sv-01a.eth0
vNic slot 2
name: nic-35682-eth0-vmware-sfw.2
agentName: vmware-sfw
From this output we can see that the filter name is nic-35682-eth0-vmware-sfw.2 for SLOT 2
pktcap-uw command help with -A output:

esxcomp-01a # pktcap-uw -A
Supported capture points:
1: Dynamic The dynamic inserted runtime capture point.
2: UplinkRcv The function that receives packets from uplink dev
3: UplinkSnd Function to Tx packets on uplink
4: Vmxnet3Tx Function in vnic backend to Tx packets from guest
5: Vmxnet3Rx Function in vnic backend to Rx packets to guest
6: PortInput Port_Input function of any given port
7: IOChain The virtual switch port iochain capture point.
8: EtherswitchDispath Function that receives packets for switch
9: EtherswitchOutput Function that sends out packets, from switch

10: PortOutput <

Related Blog post:

An introduction to Zero Trust virtualization-centric security
What is a Distributed Firewall?
Deep Dive: How does NSX Distributed Firewall work
Distributed Firewall (DFW) in NSX for vSphere, and Applied To:
Security-as-a-Service with NSX Service Composer
Configure and Administer Firewall Services
Service Composer Resultant Set of Policy
Validating Distributed Firewall rulesets in NSX
Stateful Firewall and NSX