Business customers of service providers often have specific requirements for VLAN IDs and the number of VLANs to be supported. The VLAN ranges required by different customers in the same service-provider network might overlap, and traffic of customers through the infrastructure might be mixed. Assigning a unique range of VLAN IDs to each customer would restrict customer configurations and could easily exceed the VLAN limit (4096) of the IEEE 802.1Q specification.
Using the IEEE 802.1Q tunneling feature, service providers can use a single VLAN to support customers who have multiple VLANs. Customer VLAN IDs are preserved, and traffic from different customers is segregated within the service-provider network, even when they appear to be in the same VLAN. Using IEEE 802.1Q tunneling expands VLAN space by using a VLAN-in-VLAN hierarchy and retagging the tagged packets. A port configured to support IEEE 802.1Q tunneling is called a tunnel port. When you configure tunneling, you assign a tunnel port to a VLAN ID that is dedicated to tunneling. Each customer requires a separate service-provider VLAN ID, but that VLAN ID supports all of the customer’s VLANs.
Customer traffic tagged in the normal way with appropriate VLAN IDs comes from an IEEE 802.1Q trunk port on the customer device and into a tunnel port on the service-provider edge switch. The link between the customer device and the edge switch is asymmetric because one end is configured as an IEEE 802.1Q trunk port, and the other end is configured as a tunnel port. You assign the tunnel port interface to an access VLAN ID that is unique to each customer.
Figure 1. IEEE 802.1Q Tunnel Ports in a Service-Provider Network
Packets coming from the customer trunk port into the tunnel port on the service-provider edge switch are normally IEEE 802.1Q-tagged with the appropriate VLAN ID. The tagged packets remain intact inside the switch and when they exit the trunk port into the service-provider network, they are encapsulated with another layer of an IEEE 802.1Q tag (called the metro tag) that contains the VLAN ID that is unique to the customer. The original customer IEEE 802.1Q tag is preserved in the encapsulated packet. Therefore, packets entering the service-provider network are double-tagged, with the outer (metro) tag containing the customer’s access VLAN ID, and the inner VLAN ID being that of the incoming traffic.
When the double-tagged packet enters another trunk port in a service-provider core switch, the outer tag is stripped as the switch processes the packet. When the packet exits another trunk port on the same core switch, the same metro tag is again added to the packet.
Figure 2. Original (Normal), IEEE 802.1Q, and Double-Tagged Ethernet Packet Formats. This figure shows the tag structures of the double-tagged packets.
When the packet enters the trunk port of the service-provider egress switch, the outer tag is again stripped as the switch internally processes the packet. However, the metro tag is not added when the packet is sent out the tunnel port on the edge switch into the customer network. The packet is sent as a normal IEEE 802.1Q-tagged frame to preserve the original VLAN numbers in the customer network.
In the above network figure, Customer A was assigned VLAN 30, and Customer B was assigned VLAN 40. Packets entering the edge switch tunnel ports with IEEE 802.1Q tags are double-tagged when they enter the service-provider network, with the outer tag containing VLAN ID 30 or 40, appropriately, and the inner tag containing the original VLAN number, for example, VLAN 100. Even if both Customers A and B have VLAN 100 in their networks, the traffic remains segregated within the service-provider network because the outer tag is different. Each customer controls its own VLAN numbering space, which is independent of the VLAN numbering space used by other customers and the VLAN numbering space used by the service-provider network.
At the outbound tunnel port, the original VLAN numbers on the customer’s network are recovered. It is possible to have multiple levels of tunneling and tagging, but the switch supports only one level in this release.
If traffic coming from a customer network is not tagged (native VLAN frames), these packets are bridged or routed as normal packets. All packets entering the service-provider network through a tunnel port on an edge switch are treated as untagged packets, whether they are untagged or already tagged with IEEE 802.1Q headers. The packets are encapsulated with the metro tag VLAN ID (set to the access VLAN of the tunnel port) when they are sent through the service-provider network on an IEEE 802.1Q trunk port. The priority field on the metro tag is set to the interface class of service (CoS) priority configured on the tunnel port. (The default is zero if none is configured.)
On switches, because 802.1Q tunneling is configured on a per-port basis, it does not matter whether the switch is a standalone switch or a stack member. All configuration is done on the stack master.