HA and failover protection

HA and failover protection

In FortiGate active-passive HA, the FortiGate Clustering Protocol (FGCP) provides failover protection. This means that an active-passive cluster can provide FortiGate services even when one of the cluster units encounters a problem that would result in complete loss of connectivity for a stand-alone FortiGate unit. This failover protection provides a backup mechanism that can be used to reduce the risk of unexpected downtime, especially in a mission-critical environment.

The FGCP supports three kinds of failover protection. Device failover automatically replaces a failed device and restarts traffic flow with minimal impact on the network. Link failover maintains traffic flow if a link fails. Session failover resumes communication sessions with minimal loss of data if a device or link failover occurs.

This chapter describes how FGCP failover protection works and provides detailed NAT/Route and Transparent mode packet flow descriptions.


About active-passive failover

To achieve failover protection in an active-passive cluster, one of the cluster units functions as the primary unit, while the rest of the cluster units are subordinate units, operating in an active stand-by mode. The cluster IP addresses and HA virtual MAC addresses are associated with the cluster interfaces of the primary unit. All traffic directed at the cluster is actually sent to and processed by the primary unit.

While the cluster is functioning, the primary unit functions as the FortiGate network security device for the networks that it is connected to. In addition, the primary unit and subordinate units use the HA heartbeat to keep in constant communication. The subordinate units report their status to the cluster unit and receive and store connection and state table updates.


Device failure

If the primary unit encounters a problem that is severe enough to cause it to fail, the remaining cluster units negotiate to select a new primary unit. This occurs because all of the subordinate units are constantly waiting to negotiate to become primary units. Only the heartbeat packets sent by the primary unit keep the subordinate units from becoming primary units. Each received heartbeat packet resets negotiation timers in the subordinate units. If this timer is allowed to run out because the subordinate units do not receive heartbeat packets from the primary unit, the subordinate units assume that the primary unit has failed, and negotiate to become primary units themselves.

Using the same FGCP negotiation process that occurs when the cluster starts up, after they determine that the primary unit has failed, the subordinate units negotiate amongst themselves to select a new primary unit. The subordinate unit that wins the negotiation becomes the new primary unit with the same MAC and IP addresses as the former primary unit. The new primary unit then sends gratuitous ARP packets out all of its interfaces to inform attached switches to send traffic to the new primary unit. Sessions then resume with the new primary unit.


Link failure

If a primary unit interface fails or is disconnected while a cluster is operation, a link failure occurs. When a link failure occurs the cluster units negotiate to select a new primary unit. Since the primary unit has not stopped operating, it participates in the negotiation. The link failure means that a new primary unit must be selected and the cluster unit with the link failure joins the cluster as a subordinate unit.

Just as for a device failover, the new primary unit sends gratuitous arp packets out all of its interfaces to inform attached switches to send traffic to it. Sessions then resume with the new primary unit.

If a subordinate unit experiences a device failure its status in the cluster does not change. However, in future negotiations a cluster unit with a link failure is unlikely to become the primary unit.


Session failover

If you enable session failover (also called session pickup) for the cluster, during cluster operation the primary unit informs the subordinate units of changes to the primary unit connection and state tables, keeping the subordinate units up-to-date with the traffic currently being processed by the cluster.

After a failover the new primary unit recognizes open sessions that were being handled by the cluster. The sessions continue to be processed by the new primary unit and are handled according to their last known state.

If you leave session pickup disabled, the cluster does not keep track of sessions and after a failover, active sessions have to be restarted or resumed.


Primary unit recovery

If a primary unit recovers after a device or link failure, it will operate as a subordinate unit, unless the override CLI keyword is enabled and its device priority is set higher than the unit priority of other cluster units (see HA override).

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About Mike

Michael Pruett, CISSP has a wide range of cyber-security and network engineering expertise. The plethora of vendors that resell hardware but have zero engineering knowledge resulting in the wrong hardware or configuration being deployed is a major pet peeve of Michael's. This site was started in an effort to spread information while providing the option of quality consulting services at a much lower price than Fortinet Professional Services. Owns PacketLlama.Com (Fortinet Hardware Sales) and Office Of The CISO, LLC (Cybersecurity consulting firm).

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