Switching and VLANs


Network Switching is the process of channelling data received from any number of input ports to another designated port that will transmit the data to its desired destination. The device through with the input data passes is called a switch.

Data entering a port is referred to as ingress, while data leaving the port is referred to as egress. The switch represents the medium through which the data is routed to its final destination.

VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks)

An Ethernet (Layer 2) broadcast domain consists of a group of Ethernet devices that are interconnected, typically via switches, such that an Ethernet broadcast packet (which specifies a reserved broadcast address as the destination Ethernet address of the packet) sent by one of the devices is always received by all the other devices in the group. A broadcast domain defines the boundaries of a single ‘Local Area Network’.

When Virtual LANs (VLANs) are not in use, a broadcast domain consists of devices (such as PCs and routers), physical cables, switches (or hubs) and possibly bridges. In this case, creating a distinct Layer 2 broadcast domain requires a distinct set of switch/hub/bridge hardware, not physically interconnected with switch/hub/bridge hardware in any other domain.

A network using Virtual LANs is capable of implementing multiple distinct Layer 2 broadcast domains with shared physical switch hardware. The switch(es) used must support VLANs, and this is now common in cost-effective commodity Ethernet switches. Inter-working of VLAN switch hardware requires that all hardware support the same VLAN standard, the dominant standard being IEEE 802.1Q.

Such switches can segregate physical switch ports into user-defined groups – with one VLAN associated with each group. Switching of traffic only occurs between the physical ports in a group, thus isolating each group from the others. Where more than one switch is used, with an ‘uplink’ connection between switches, VLAN tagging is used to multiplex packets from different VLANs across these single physical connections.

A IEEE 802.1Q VLAN tag is a small header prefixed to the normal Ethernet packet payload, includes a 12-bit number (range 1-4095) that identifies the tagged packet as belonging to a specific VLAN.

When a tagged packet arrives at another switch, the tag specifies which VLAN it is in, and switching to the appropriate physical port(s) occurs.

In addition to VLAN support in switches, some end devices incorporate VLAN support, allowing them to send and receive tagged packets from VLAN switch infrastructure, and use the VLAN ID to map packets to multiple logical interfaces, whilst only using a single physical interface. Such VLAN support is typically present in devices that are able to be multi-homed (have more than one IP interface), such as routers and firewalls, and general-purpose network-capable operating systems such as Linux.

The FB2900 supports IEEE 802.1Q VLANs and will accept (and send) packets with 802.1Q VLAN tags. It can therefore work with any Ethernet switch (or other) equipment that also supports 802.1Q VLANs, and therefore allows multiple logical interfaces to be implemented on a single physical port.

VLAN tagged switching is now also used in Wide-Area Layer 2 Ethernet networks, where a Layer 2 ‘circuit’ is provided by a carrier over shared physical infrastructure. The conventional concept of a LAN occupying a small geographic area is thus no longer necessarily true.