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In this article we will discuss how to establish communications between VLANs, as well as how to configure the networks.

First of all, let’s take a look at the 3 methods of permitting traffic to flow between VLANs

Communications Options:

  1. Configure a router and connect a single interface to a switch per VLAN configured.
  2. Configure a router to use IEEE 802.1Q and connect to a switch via a trunk.
  3. Configure (and possibly purchase) a Layer 3–capable switch.

Option 1 is really only practical for companies that are very small, don’t require a large number of ports, and don’t anticipate growing quickly. This option’s only opportunity for growth is by using an expensive router port (per VLAN). Options 2 and 3 are appropriate for the majority of networks deployed over the last 15 years or so.

why option 1 is not scalable-01

This example assumes that four different VLANs on SW1 need to be connected together. Using this option, a new interface is required per device per VLAN, all of which need to communicate, so four different interfaces are linked from the Layer 2 switch (SW1) to the router (R1). If the company wants to add another VLAN sometime in the future, it will need a new interface to link the new VLAN from SW1 to R1. This network design is inherently wasteful because many VLANs don’t have a lot of traffic passing between devices. (That’s the point of having the VLAN in the first place.) The ineffective design of option 1 explains why option 2 started getting attention.

Option 2 is popular with companies that need to connect multiple VLANs, but can’t afford Layer 3 switching options. When implementing this design, an 802.1Q trunk is configured between a Layer 2 switch and a router that supports 802.1Q. This trunk allows all of the traffic from the configured VLANs to be transmitted and routed via a single routed interface. The router manages and routes all traffic from one VLAN to another via this single interface. This type of configuration is typically referred to as router on a stick (ROAS). The following figure shows a common representation of this configuration.

All VLANs over a single interface

All VLANs over a single interface-02

The third option for routing traffic between VLANs is to use a Layer 3 switch. This switch is capable of routing traffic from VLAN to VLAN internally, but it tends to be quite a bit more expensive than a Layer 2 switch. Older-model switches performed this routing via a separate routing blade that was inserted into the switch, but on modern switches this functionality is typically built into the switch. Cisco IOS switches handle this functionality via the use of a switch virtual interface (SVI). It shows a visual representation of the SVIs inside a Layer 3 switch as follows.

All VLANs internal to the Layer 3 switch

All VLANs internal to the Layer 3 switch-03

The Forwarding Path

Here’s the next logical question: How is traffic forwarded between VLANs? For the answer, we’ll take a look at all three connectivity models discussed earlier.

For option 1, let’s assume that two devices need to communicate—one is configured into VLAN 10, and the other is configured into VLAN 20. We’ll also assume that the Fa0/0 interface communicates with VLAN 10 traffic and the Fa0/1 interface communicates with VLAN 20 traffic. In this scenario, traffic from the VLAN 10 device will flow to the VLAN 20 device using the path shown in the following figure.

Traffic path (option 1)-04

Now let’s condense this layout a little and look at how the forwarding would work with a ROAS configuration. The Figure below, notice that the path looks very similar, but without needing an extra interface.

Traffic path (option 2)-05

Finally, let’s look at how this design works with a Layer 3 switch. This layout is a bit different because it doesn’t need a separate routing device. In this case, the routing mechanism is built into the same switch, and SVIs route the traffic.

Traffic path (option 3)-06

Network Configuration

Configuring any of the network options requires a good understanding of the concepts laid out in the previous sections. All of the following examples use four different VLANs: VLAN 10, VLAN 20, VLAN 30, and VLAN 40.

The option 1 configuration requires the interfaces connected to the router to be configured into the correct VLANs. No special configuration is required on R1, as each interface would be configured like a standard LAN interface; the VLANs are invisible to R1 in this configuration.

Table 1 shows an example, using the diagram from the figure 1.

why option 1 is not scalable-01

StepAction(s)Command(s)
1Enter global configuration mode.SW1#configure terminal
2Enter into VLAN configuration mode and/or create a VLAN (optional).SW1(config)#vlan vlan-id
3Configure a name for the VLAN (optional).SW1(config-vlan)#namename
4Enter into interface configuration mode for the first interface connecting to R1.SW1(config-vlan)#interface fastethernet0/0
5Configure the access VLAN for the interface.SW1(config-if)#switchport access vlan 10
6Enter into interface configuration mode for the second interface connecting to R1.SW1(config-vlan)#interface fastethernet0/1
7Configure the access VLAN for the interface.SW1(config-if)#switchport access vlan 20
8Enter into interface configuration mode for the third interface connecting to R1.SW1(config-vlan)#interface fastethernet0/2
9Configure the access VLAN for the interface.SW1(config-if)#switchport access vlan 30
10Enter into interface configuration mode for the fourth interface connecting to R1.SW1(config-vlan)#interface fastethernet0/3
11Configure the access VLAN for the interface.SW1(config-if)#switchport access vlan 40

For option 2, the router must become aware of the VLANs being used and route accordingly.

Table 2 shows an example of this configuration, using the diagram from “All VLANs over a single interface”.

StepAction(s)Command(s)
1Enter global configuration mode.SW1#configure terminal
2Enter into VLAN configuration mode and/or create a VLAN (optional).SW1(config)#vlan vlan-id
3Configure a name for the VLAN (optional).SW1(config-vlan)#namename
4Enter into interface configuration mode for the first interface connecting to R1.SW1(config-vlan)#interface fastethernet0/0
5

Configure the interface to become a trunk.

Note: Routers don’t support the dynamic trunking protocol (DTP), so the trunk must be manually enabled.

SW1(config-if)#switchport mode trunk
6Enter global configuration mode.R1#configure terminal
7

Create a new sub-interface on the physical interface connecting to SW1.

Note: For this example, I’m using sub-interface numbers that match the VLAN numbers, but this is not required.

R1(config)#interface fastethernet0/0.10
8Configure the interface to use IEEE 802.1Q encapsulation and handle traffic for VLAN 10.R1(config-if)#encapsulation dot1Q 10
9Create another new sub-interface on the physical interface connecting to SW1.R1(config)#interface fastethernet0/0.20
10Configure the interface to use IEEE 802.1Q encapsulation and handle traffic for VLAN 20.R1(config-if)#encapsulation dot1Q 20
11Create another new sub-interface on the physical interface connecting to SW1.R1(config)#interface fastethernet0/0.30
12Configure the interface to use IEEE 802.1Q encapsulation and handle traffic for VLAN 30.R1(config-if)#encapsulation dot1Q 30
13Create another new sub-interface on the physical interface connecting to SW1.R1(config)#interface fastethernet0/0.40
14Configure the interface to use IEEE 802.1Q encapsulation and handle traffic for VLAN 40.R1(config-if)#encapsulation dot1Q 40

All Layer 3 addressing information would now be configured on the sub-interfaces that are configured.

For option 3, the configuration requires that you set up the SVI within the switch to handle the VLAN traffic.

Table 3 shows an example of this configuration, using the diagram from “All VLANs internal to the Layer 3 switch”.

StepAction(s)Command(s)
1Enter global configuration mode.SW1#configure terminal
2Enter into VLAN configuration mode and/or create a VLAN (optional).SW1(config)#vlan vlan-id
3Configure a name for the VLAN (optional).SW1(config-vlan)#namename
4Configure a new SVI interface for the first VLAN (10).SW1(config-vlan)#interface vlan 10
5Configure a new SVI interface for the second VLAN (20).SW1(config-vlan)#interface vlan 20
6Configure a new SVI interface for the third VLAN (30).SW1(config-vlan)#interface vlan 30
7Configure a new SVI interface for the fourth VLAN (40).SW1(config-vlan)#interface vlan 40

All Layer 3 addressing information would now be configured on the SVI interfaces that are configured.

Today, the only solution that will be common in medium to large implementations is the use of Layer 3 switches. The other two solutions had their time, but as the technology and industry have evolved, the third solution has grown to be an easier (and overall cheaper) solution than its predecessors.

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