VXLAN Control Plane – Cisco Network Virtualization

VXLAN Control Plane

The initial IETF VXLAN standard (RFC 7348) defined a multicast-based flood-and-learn VXLAN without a control plane. It relies on data-driven flood-and-learn behavior for remote VXLAN tunnel endpoint (VTEP) peer discovery and remote end-host learning. The overlay broadcast, unknown unicast, and multicast traffic are encapsulated into multicast VXLAN packets and transported to remote VTEP switches through the underlay multicast forwarding. Flooding in such a deployment can present a challenge for the scalability of the solution. The requirement to enable multicast capabilities in the underlay network also presents a challenge because some organizations do not want to enable multicast in their data centers or WAN networks.

To overcome the limitations of the flood-and-learn VXLAN, organizations can use Multiprotocol Border Gateway Protocol Ethernet Virtual Private Network (MP-BGP EVPN) as the control plane for VXLAN. MP-BGP EVPN has been defined by IETF as the standards-based control plane for VXLAN overlays. The MP-BGP EVPN control plane provides protocol-based VTEP peer discovery and end-host reachability information distribution that allows more scalable VXLAN overlay network designs. The MP-BGP EVPN control plane introduces a set of features that reduces or eliminates traffic flooding in the overlay network and enables optimal forwarding for both west-east and south-north traffic.


In the flood-and-learn method, VXLAN uses existing Layer 2 mechanisms (flooding and dynamic MAC address learning) to do the following:

  • Transport broadcast, unknown unicast, and multicast traffic
  • Discover remote VTEPs
  • Learn remote host MAC addresses and MAC-to-VTEP mappings for each VXLAN segment

For the three traffic types, IP multicast is used to reduce the flooding scope of the set of hosts participating in the VXLAN segment. Each VXLAN segment, or VNID, is mapped to an IP multicast group in the transport IP network. Each VTEP device is independently configured and joins this multicast group as an IP host through the Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP). The IGMP joins trigger Protocol-Independent Multicast (PIM) joins and signaling through the transport network for the particular multicast group. The multicast distribution tree for this group is built through the transport network based on the locations of participating VTEPs. This multicast group is used to transmit VXLAN broadcast, unknown unicast, and multicast traffic through the IP network, limiting Layer 2 flooding to those devices that have end systems participating in the same VXLAN segment. VTEPs communicate with one another through the flooded or multicast traffic in this multicast group.

The Flood-and-Learn VXLAN implementation uses the classic Layer 2 data plane flooding and learning mechanisms for remote VTEP discovery and tenant address learning. Figure 7-12 shows the remote VTEP discovery and end-host address learning process.


Figure 7-12 VXLAN Remote VTEP Discovery and End-Host Address Learning

The tenant VXLAN segment has VNID 10 and uses the multicast group over the transport network. It has three participating VTEPs in the data center. Assume that no address learning has been performed between locations. End System A (with IP-A, MAC-A) starts IP communication with End System B (with IP-B, MAC-B). The sequence of steps is as follows:

End System A sends out an Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) request for IP-B on its Layer 2 VXLAN network.

VTEP-1 receives the ARP request. It does not yet have a mapping for IP-B. VTEP-1 encapsulates the ARP request in an IP multicast packet and forwards it to the VXLAN multicast group. The encapsulated multicast packet has the IP address of VTEP-1 as the source IP address and the VXLAN multicast group address as the destination IP address.

The IP multicast packet is distributed to all members in the tree. VTEP-2 and VTEP-3 receive the encapsulated multicast packet because they’ve joined the VXLAN multicast group. They de-encapsulate the packet and check its VNID in the VXLAN header. If it matches their configured VXLAN segment VNID, they forward the ARP request to their local VXLAN network. They also learn the IP address of VTEP-1 from the outer IP address header and inspect the packet to learn the MAC address of End System A, placing this mapping in the local table.

End System B receives the ARP request forwarded by VTEP-2. It responds with its own MAC address (MAC-B) and learns the IP-A-to-MAC-A mapping.

VTEP-2 receives the ARP reply of End System B with MAC-A as the destination MAC address. It now knows about MAC-A-to-IP-1 mapping. It can use the unicast tunnel to forward the ARP reply back to VTEP-1. In the encapsulated unicast packet, the source IP address is IP-2 and the destination IP address is IP-1. The ARP reply is encapsulated in the UDP payload.

VTEP-1 receives the encapsulated ARP reply from VTEP-2. It de-encapsulates and forwards the ARP reply to End System A. It also learns the IP address of VTEP-2 from the outer IP address header and inspects the original packet to learn the MAC-B-to-IP-2 mapping.

End System A receives the ARP reply sent from End System B. Subsequent IP packets between End Systems A and B are unicast forwarded, based on the mapping information on VTEP-1 and VTEP-2, using the VXLAN tunnel between them.

VTEP-1 can optionally perform proxy ARPs for subsequent ARP requests for IP-B to reduce the flooding over the transport network.

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