In our CCDP bootcamp, we examined Cisco’s implementation of Virtual Private LAN Services (VPLS) in some detail. One blog that I promised our students was more information about how large enterprises or Internet Service Providers can enhance the scalbility of this solution.

First, let us review the issues that influence its scalability. We covered these in the course, but they are certainly worth repeating here.

Remember that VPLS looks just like an Ethernet switch to the customers. As such, this solution can suffer from the same issues that could hinder a Layer 2 core infrastructure. These are:

  • Control-plane scalability – classic VPLS calls for a full-mesh of pseudo-wires connecting the edge sites. This certainly does not scale as the number of edge sites grow – from both operational and control-plane viewpoints.
  • Network stability as the network grows – Spanning Tree Protocol-based (STP) infrastructures tend not to scale as well as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) solutions.
  • Ability to recover from outages – as the VPLS network grows, it could become much more susceptible to major issues for customer connectivity in the result of a failure.
  • Multicast and broadcast radiation to all sites – remembering that the VPLS network acts as a Layer 2 switch reminds us that multicast and broadcast traffic can be flooded to all customers across the network.
  • Multicast scalability – multicast traffic has to be replicated on ingress PE devices, which significantly reduces forwarding efficiency.
  • IGP peering scalability issues – all routers attached to the cloud tend to be in the same broadcast domain and thus IGP peer, which results in full-mesh of adjacencies and excessive flooding when using link-state routing protocols.
  • STP loops – it is certainly possible that a customer creating an STP loop could impact other customers of the ISP. STP may be blocked across the MPLS cloud, but it is normally used for multi-homed deployments to prevent forwarding loops.
  • Load-balancing – the use of MPLS encapsulation hides the VPLS encapsulated flows from the core network and thus prevents the effective use of ECMP flow-based load-balancing.

The solution for some of these issues is Hierarchical VPLS (H-VPLS). H-VPLS only interconnects the core MPLS network provider edge devices with a full mesh of pseudo-wires, thus reducing the complexity of the full-mesh. The customer provider edge equipment is then connected hierarchically using pseudo-wires to these core devices. The topology now looks like a reduced full-mesh with tree-like connections at the edge of the network. Notice the customer edge equipment no longer connects to each other.

Using H-VPLS, the problem of control-plane scalability can be significantly alleviated. The network is partitioned into as many edge domains as is required. These edge domains are then very efficiently connected using an MPLS core. The MPLS core for the provider allows for the simultaneous usage of L3 MPLS VPNs for those additional customers that desire it. In addition, the MPLS core may limit the extent of the STP domain in non multi-homed scenarios, and therefore, improves performance and limits instabilities.

It is worth mentioning that the main problem with VPLS deployments is not the control-plane but rather data-plane scalability – mainly because of the MAC address table explosion and excessive broadcast/multicast traffic flooding. In addition to improving control-plane scalability by means of H-VPLS pseudo-wire hierarchies, additional techniques can be used to alleviate the issues of the data-plane. The first technique is MAC-in-MAC address stacking, which reduces the number of MAC addresses to be exposed in the core. The second is known as multicast forwarding optimization. This allows for the use of special point-to-multipoint pseudo-wires in the SP core to improve multicast traffic replication.

To summarize, H-VPLS offers the following benefits compared to traditional VPLS solutions:

  • Lowers the number of pseudo-wire connections that must be full-meshed and thus improves control-plane scalability
  • Reduces the burden on core devices presented by frame replication and forwarding by adding a hierarchical “aggregation” layer
  • Reduces the size of MAC address tables on the provider equipment when combined with MAC-in-MAC address stacking

To complete this blog post, we should mention that there is an alternative to H-VPLS control plane scaling that has been championed by Cisco’s rival, Juniper Networks. Juniper’s approach utilizes BGP for VPLS pseudo-wire signaling, as opposed to using point-to-point LDP sessions. Scaling BGP by means of route-reflectors is well-known and thus Juniper’s approach automatically has a scalable control-plane.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to watch the blog for more exciting Design-related presentations.

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4 Responses to “Scaling Virtual Private LAN Services (VPLS)”

  1. Tom says:


    nice post, like always from INE ;)

    What’s your typical situation when u use VPLS? I only used it in a hotspot enviroment – are there any others too btw would you point them up?

    Best regards

  2. Masa says:

    Hello I have questions below.

    What cisco product can use of this protocol?
    What is pros and cons between MPLS and VPLS?
    Any limitation to use VPLS?

    Best Regards

  3. Ray N. says:

    How is VPLS is different than running VRFs or PVLANs? From my experience I use VRFs a lot and very few of my customers require PVLANs. So how is VPLS any different?



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