Implementing Provider-Provisioned VPNs using Route Reflectors

MPLS/BGP Provider-Provisioned VPNs, such as those proposed in RFC 4364 (formerly RFC 2547) or draft-kompella variants, suffer from some scalability issues due to the fact that all PE routers are required to have a full iBGP mesh in order to exchange VPN-IPv4 NLRI and associated VPN label information.  In a modern network consisting of a large number of PE devices, it becomes readily apparent that this requirement can quickly become unmanageable.

The formula to compute the number of sessions for an iBGP full mesh is n * (n-1)/2.  10 PE devices would only require a total of 45 iBGP sessions (10 * (9)/2 = 45).  However, by simply adding 5 additional PEs into this environment your total number of sessions increases exponentially to 105.  Scalability issues arise because maintaining this number of iBGP sessions on each PE is an operational nightmare; similarly control plane resources are quickly exhausted.

An alternative to this that has gained widespread adoption is to utilize Route Reflectors to reflect the VPN-IPv4 NLRI and associated VPN label between PE devices.  However, several issues arise when using Route Reflectors in such an environment.  In a normal environment without the use of Route Reflectors, MPLS tunnels exist between each PE router such that when the VPN-IPv4 NLRI and associated VPN label are received, a PE router can recurse through its routing table to find the underlying MPLS tunnel used to reach the remote BGP next-hop within the VPN-IPv4 NLRI.  In the Route Reflection model, the Route Reflector typically doesn’t have an MPLS tunnel to each PE for which it is receiving VPN-IPv4 NLRI.  Therefore, these routes never become active and are therefore not candidates for reflection back to other client and non-client peers.

A few methods have been developed which circumvent this issue.  One method is to simply define MPLS tunnels from the Route Reflector to each PE.  This solves the problem by allowing the Route Reflector to find a recursive match (i.e. MPLS tunnel) in order to reach the remote PE.  However, this approach suffers from the drawback in that it requires a whole bunch of MPLS tunnels to be configured which only serve to allow the received VPN-IPv4 NLRI to be considered active.  Remember, these tunnels are completely useless in that they will never be used for the actual forwarding of data, they are only used within the control plane to instantiate routes.

An alternative and much more graceful solution to this problem is to configure the Route Reflector with a static discard route within the routing table which is used to reference BGP next-hops in MPLS environments (inet.3 for example in JUNOS).  This static discard route only serves to function as a recursive match when incoming VPN-IPv4 NLRI are received for the express purpose of making these routes active and therefore candidates for redistribution.  In JUNOS, one can accomplish this using the following configuration:

With the above, any VPN-IPv4 NLRI received from a PE router is immediately made active due to the fact that a static route has been created in inet.3 which is the routing table used in JUNOS to recurse for BGP next-hops in MPLS environments.

An excellent whitepaper entitled “BGP Route Reflection in Layer 3 VPN Networks” expands upon this and describes the benefits of using Route Reflection in such environments. It also builds the case for using a distributed Route Reflection design to further enhance scalability and redundancy.

One thing to keep in mind is that with the Route Reflector approach, we have merely moved the problem set from that of the PE device to that of the Route Reflector.  Although it minimizes the number of iBGP sessions required on PE devices, the Route Reflector must be capable of supporting a large number of iBGP sessions and in addition, must be able to store all of the VPN-IPv4 NLRI for all of the VPNs for which it is servicing.  It is highly recommended that adequate amounts of memory are in place on the Route Reflector in order to store this large amount of routing information.

Finally, while using Route Reflectors is an acceptable solution in the interim to addressing scaling concerns with Provider-Provisioned VPNs, it is not clear if this approach is sufficient for the long term.  There are several other options being examined, with some of them outlined in a presentation entitled 2547 L3VPN Control Plane Scaling” given at APRICOT in Kyoto, Japan in 2005.

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