Maintenance and Monitoring Operations


Datacenter Federation with Network Areas

One of the key features of Consul is its support for multiple datacenters. The architecture of Consul is designed to promote a low coupling of datacenters so that connectivity issues or failure of any datacenter does not impact the availability of Consul in other datacenters. This means each datacenter runs independently, each having a dedicated group of servers and a private LAN gossip pool.

This guide covers the advanced form of federating Consul datacenters using the new network areas capability added in Consul Enterprise version 0.8.0. For the basic form of federation available in the open source version of Consul, please see the basic federation guide for more details.

This guide shows how to configure network areas on existing Consul deployments and has the following sections:

  1. Configure advanced federation
  2. Join servers
  3. Route RPCs
  4. DNS lookups
  5. Network area overview
  6. Maintenance and troubleshooting

Configure advanced federation

To get started, follow the deployment guide to start each datacenter. After bootstrapping, we should have two datacenters now which we can refer to as dc1 and dc2. Note that datacenter names are opaque to Consul; they are simply labels that help human operators reason about the Consul datacenters.

A compatible pair of areas must be created in each datacenter:

# (dc1)
$ consul operator area create -peer-datacenter=dc2
Created area "beb39435-43e8-5979-7c11-b5e011e04f51" with peer datacenter "dc2"!
# (dc2)
$ consul operator area create -peer-datacenter=dc1
Created area "37465cea-f00e-106e-f1ba-fe70b425ec4d" with peer datacenter "dc1"!

Now you can query for the members of the area:

# (dc1)
$ consul operator area members
Area                                  Node        Address           Status  Build      Protocol  DC   RTT
beb39435-43e8-5979-7c11-b5e011e04f51  server.dc1  alive   1.6.2+ent  2         dc1  0s

Join servers

Consul will automatically make sure that all servers within the datacenter where the area was created are joined to the area using the LAN information. We need to join with at least one Consul server in the other datacenter to complete the area:

# (dc1)
$ consul operator area join -peer-datacenter=dc2
Address      Joined  Error  true    (none)

With a successful join, we should now see the remote Consul servers as part of the area's members:

# (dc1)
$ consul operator area members
Area                                  Node        Address           Status  Build      Protocol  DC   RTT
beb39435-43e8-5979-7c11-b5e011e04f51  server.dc1  alive   1.6.2+ent  2         dc1  0s
beb39435-43e8-5979-7c11-b5e011e04f51  server.dc2  alive   1.6.2+ent  2         dc2  4.359428ms

Route RPCs

Now we can route RPC commands in both directions. Here's a sample command to set a KV entry in dc2 from dc1:

# (dc1)
$ consul kv put -datacenter=dc2 hello_from_dc1 world
Success! Data written to: hello_from_dc1

Similarly we can use the parameter to retrieve data from the other datacenter:

# (dc1)
$ consul kv get -datacenter=dc2 hello_from_dc1

DNS lookups

The DNS interface supports federation as well:

# (dc1)
$ dig @ -p 8600 consul.service.dc2.consul
; <<>> DiG 9.11.5-P4-5.1-Debian <<>> @ -p 8600 consul.service.dc2.consul
; (1 server found)
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 45946
;; flags: qr aa rd; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 2
;; WARNING: recursion requested but not available

; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4096
;consul.service.dc2.consul. IN  A

consul.service.dc2.consul. 0    IN  A

consul.service.dc2.consul. 0    IN  TXT "consul-network-segment="

;; Query time: 5 msec
;; WHEN: Wed Jan 08 12:12:33 UTC 2020
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 106

There are a few networking requirements that must be satisfied for this to work. Of course, all server nodes must be able to talk to each other via their server RPC ports (8300/tcp). If service discovery is to be used across datacenters, the network must be able to route traffic between IP addresses across regions as well. Usually, this means that all datacenters must be connected using a VPN or other tunneling mechanism. Consul does not handle VPN or NAT traversal for you.

The translate_wan_addrs configuration provides a basic address rewriting capability.

Network area overview

Consul's basic federation support relies on all Consul servers in all datacenters having full mesh connectivity via server RPC (8300/tcp) and Serf WAN (8302/tcp and 8302/udp). Securing this setup requires TLS in combination with managing a gossip keyring. With massive Consul deployments, it becomes tricky to support a full mesh with all Consul servers, and to manage the keyring.

Consul Enterprise version 0.8.0 added support for a new federation model based on operator-created network areas. Network areas specify a relationship between a pair of Consul datacenters. Operators create reciprocal areas on each side of the relationship and then join them together, so a given Consul datacenter can participate in many areas, even when some of the peer areas cannot contact each other. This allows for more flexible relationships between Consul datacenters, such as hub/spoke or more general tree structures. Traffic between areas is all performed via server RPC (8300/tcp) so it can be secured with just TLS.

Currently, Consul will only route RPC requests to datacenters it is immediately adjacent to via an area (or via the WAN), but future versions of Consul may add routing support.

The following can be used to manage network areas:

Network areas and the WAN gossip pool

Networks areas can be used alongside the Consul's basic federation model and the WAN gossip pool. This helps ease migration, and datacenters like the primary datacenter are more easily managed via the WAN because they need to be available to all Consul datacenters.

A peer datacenter can be connected via the WAN gossip pool and a network area at the same time, and RPC requests will be forwarded as long as servers are available in either.

Data replication

In general, data is not replicated between different Consul datacenters. When a request is made for a resource in another datacenter, the local Consul servers forward an RPC request to the remote Consul servers for that resource and return the results. If the remote datacenter is not available, then those resources will also not be available, but that won't otherwise affect the local datacenter. There are some special situations where a limited subset of data can be replicated, such as with Consul's built-in ACL replication capability, or external tools like consul-replicate.

Maintenance and troubleshooting

Delete network areas

Consul does not provide a command to leave a previously joined network area, in case you want to remove the federation between two datacenters the suggested approach is to remove the network area from both:

# (dc2)
$ consul operator area delete -id=37465cea-f00e-106e-f1ba-fe70b425ec4d
Deleted area "37465cea-f00e-106e-f1ba-fe70b425ec4d"!

Once the command is execute from one of the datacenters, the federation is already removed and the servers from the other datacenter will be shown as left:

# (dc1)
$ consul operator area members
Area                                  Node        Address           Status  Build      Protocol  DC   RTT
beb39435-43e8-5979-7c11-b5e011e04f51  server.dc1  alive   1.6.2+ent  2         dc1  0s
beb39435-43e8-5979-7c11-b5e011e04f51  server.dc2  left    1.6.2+ent  2         dc2  4.391502ms

Functionality compatibility

Network areas are the suggested approach when your architecture layout does not permit a full mesh connectivity between all servers across datacenters. Due to the same connectivity constraints, some of the latest Consul functionalities do not have full compatibility with network areas.

In case you are trying to setup ACL replication using the 1.4 ACL system or enabling Connect with CA replication, we recommend you to use basic federation to leverage all Consul's latest functionalities.

Future version of Consul will gradually integrate all functionalities into network areas.


In this guide, you setup advanced federation using network areas. You then learned how to route RPC commands and use the DNS interface with multiple datacenters.