..I am connecting a Nexus 5K to a 6509 without VSS. Is the recommended configuration just straight etherchannel? Since the 6509 cannot do vpc, is an etherchannel the best way to configure this uplink? How does spanning-tree operate in this scenario?
To take an advantage of VSS, you need to connect the Nexus to both 6500 (VSS) switches using an Etherchannel. This way you don't have to worry about spanning-tree. It is as you are connecting one switch to another.
I ran this scenario for a while, and there's is no way to avoid spanning-tree and achieve redundancy. We setup a vPC link from the nexus pair to each 6500, and the Nexus pair blocked towards the standby 6500.
One note of caution, make sure not to mismatch your port-channel types (LACP vs forced) in this typology. It will open up a spanning-tree loop when the LACP port fails to negotiate, does not send BPDUs, but accepts all packets recieved.
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