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Enterprise Multicast in a Service Provider Environment

The fundamental problem that service providers face today when offering native multicast services to end customers is the amount of multicast distribution information (that is [S, G] or [*, G] states) that needs to be maintained to provide the most optimal multicast traffic distribution. When a multicast source becomes active within a particular customer site, the multicast traffic must travel through the service provider network to reach all PE routers that have receivers connected to CE routers for that multicast group. To prevent unnecessary traffic delivery, the service provider must avoid sending traffic to PE routers that have no interested receivers. To accomplish this goal and achieve optimal routing, each P router in the network must maintain state information for all active customer distribution trees.

However, a problem arises in that the service provider has no visibility into how its end customers manage multicast within their enterprise. In addition, the service provider does not have control over the distribution of sources and receivers or the number of groups that the end customer chooses to use. In this situation, the P routers are required to support an unbounded amount of state information based on the enterprise customer's application of multicast.

Figure 7-6 illustrates this scenario in the SuperCom network. (This chapter uses SuperCom as the example network.) As shown in the figure, SuperCom provides native multicast services to VPN customers FastFoods and EuroBank. In this example, native multicast means that the SuperCom network provides both customers with multicast services via the global multicast routing table by using standard multicast procedures. To obtain multicast services, each EuroBank or FastFoods site must ultimately connect to a SuperCom global interface (that is, one with no VRF defined). Multicast traffic travels across the SuperCom network using standard IP multicast; no tunnels or encapsulations are used. The FastFoods organization has three active distribution trees rooted at two sources (A and B). Similarly, EuroBank has three active distribution trees rooted at three sources (C, D, and E). Each of these trees has at least one receiver that is connected to a CE somewhere in the global multicast network.

To provide optimal multicast traffic distribution, the Washington P router must hold the state information for all six trees. This applies equally to any other P and PE routers that are in the path of the distribution trees. Because all multicast routing operates in the global SuperCom table, it is possible that multicast groups that different customers use will conflict (as would be the case with multiple customers using the same RFC 1918 addressing in a unicast network). To avoid this situation, SuperCom must allocate each VPN a unique range of multicast groups.

Figure 06Figure 7-6 Supporting Native Enterprise Multicast

The total amount of state information that the SuperCom network must hold is determined by the way the customer deploys multicast in his network. For each unique customer source, a separate state entry exists in the global table for each multicast group that source is serving. Deploying features such as bidirectional trees reduces the amount of multicast state information required, although traffic distribution is not as optimal. Given that the amount of state information is unbounded (cannot be limited) and the service provider must allocate and manage multicast groups, the deployment of native multicast services in this manner is not recommended from a scaling and provisioning standpoint.

A common way to provide multicast over a service provider IP or MPLS VPN network is to overlay generic routing encapsulation (GRE) tunnels between CE routers. This eliminates the need for any state information to be kept in the P routers because all multicast packets between VPN sites are encapsulated by using GRE within the service provider network. This solution also allows different enterprise customers to use overlapping multicast groups. However, the disadvantage of this solution is that unless the customer implements a full mesh of GRE tunnels between CE routers, optimal multicast routing is not achieved. In fact, more bandwidth can be wasted by multicast traffic backtracking over different GRE tunnels across the P network. Further to this, Multicast over GRE is inherently unscalable due to the potential number of tunnels required and the amount of operational and management overhead.

A more scalable model for providing multicast within a VPN can be derived from the way optimal unicast routing is achieved in an MPLS VPN.


  • A P router maintains routing information and labels for the global routing table only. It does not hold routing or state information for customer VPNs.

  • A CE router maintains a routing adjacency with its PE router neighbor only. CE routers do not peer with other CE routers but still have the ability to access other CE routers in their VPN through the most optimal route that the P network provides.

As you will see, the mVPN solution that is implemented in Cisco IOS provides a scalable and efficient method of transporting multicast traffic between sites of a VPN customer and has similar characteristics mentioned in the previous bullet points.

In a service provider network that is enabled with mVPN

  • A P router maintains multicast state entries for the global routing table only. It does not hold multicast state entries for customer VPNs.

  • A CE router maintains a multicast PIM adjacency with its PE router neighbor only. CE routers do not have multicast peerings with other CE routers, but they can exchange multicast information with other CE routers in the same VPN.

The following sections describe the mVPN architecture as implemented by Cisco IOS.

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