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Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) based on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) combine the benefits of the overlay VPN model, such as isolation and security, with the benefits of the peer-to-peer VPN model, such as simplified routing, easier provisioning, and better scalability. A number of mechanisms are needed to successfully meet all these goals:

  • Each VPN needs a separate VPN routing and forwarding instance (VRF) in each PE router to guarantee isolation and enable usage of uncoordinated private IP addresses.

  • To support overlapping VPN topologies, the VRFs can be more granular than the VPNs and can participate in more than one VPN at a time. An attribute called a route target is needed to identify the set of VPNs in which a particular VRF participates. For maximum flexibility, a set of route targets can be associated with a VRF or attached to a VPN route.

  • VPN IP addresses are prepended with 64-bit route distinguishers to make VPN addresses globally unique. These 96-bit addresses are exchanged between the PE routers through MP-BGP, which also carries additional route attributes (for example, the route target) by means of optional BGP route attributes, called extended communities.

  • Each PE router needs a unique router ID (host route—usually the loopback address) that is used to allocate a label and enable VPN packet forwarding across the backbone.

  • Each PE router allocates a unique label to each route in each VRF (even if they have the same next hop) and propagates these labels together with 96-bit VPN addresses through MP-BGP.

  • Ingress PE routers use a two-level MPLS label stack to label the VPN packets with a VPN label assigned by the egress PE router and an IGP label identifying the PE router assigned through the regular MPLS label distribution mechanisms. The label stack is prepended to the VPN packet, and the resulting MPLS packet is forwarded across the P network.

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