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Data Center Directions
Does E-VPN Spell the End for OTV?
Mar 18, 2018

If you are considering how best to do Layer 2 stretch for virtual machine mobility, then you might be considering Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV). OTV designed by Cisco to offer L2 stretch with what they said was an easy to deploy protocol. It was only available on the Nexus switching product line, which didn’t support VPLS/MPLS. Until recently MPLS/VPLS was Juniper’s recommended technology for network segmentation and Layer 2 stretch, which Cisco also offers on the ASR routers.  We’ve recently announced E-VPN, which is MPLS/VPLS based and brings all of the benefits of VPLS and then some. Cisco has announced E-VPN on the ASR router as well. Now that E-VPN is available, maybe it’s time to consider your best option. Let’s take a look at why OTV isn’t the best choice for VM mobility and why E-VPN is.

Why OTV was Invented
OTV has been in the Cisco’s news announcements, highlighted at Cisco Live and featured in several Cisco blogs. It’s something I’ve been meaning to cover along with my blogs on LISP and VXLAN as these all get discussed together as parts of a complete solution for live VM migration. Cisco first announced OTV on Feb. 8, 2010. Overlay Transport Virtualization is a Cisco proprietary protocol which provides Layer 2 extensions, over IP, to interconnect remote data centers.  Cisco claims that the OTV is a simpler technology than MPLS/VPLS, which is a standards-based and proven technology for network segmentation and Layer 2 Extension.  They said that OTV can be provisioned within minutes, using only four commands, and that it provides increased scalability (however without seeing the independent studies we don’t know if this is true).  It was only offered it only on the Nexus 7000, which didn’t offer MPLS/VPLS technology. With OTV, Cisco pushed yet another proprietary protocol that is not as well proven as standards-based MPLS/VPLS or the newer E-VPN. Cisco supports VPLS on the ASR router so it is curious that they did OTV on the Nexus which doesn’t sit at the right place in the network to do L2 Stretch. The Cisco ASR, like the Juniper MX, is meant to do L2 stretch at the data center edge, not in the data center core where the Nexus switches sit.


Core vs. Edge Layer 2 Stretch


The Nexus switches sit in the data center core at the wrong place in the network for L2 Stretch. The optimum place is at the data center edge where the Juniper MX routers sit.

It seems that OTV was a quick to market implementation that provided a way for Cisco to hook the Nexus into the data center interconnect architecture and use the lure of easy virtual machine migration as a way to promote the Nexus products. Prominent network engineer and blogger Ivan P. discovered that OTV is nothing else than the very familiar EoMPLSoGREoIP. See, VxLAN and OTV, I've been suckered.

OTV Top Concerns:
1    Proprietary solution: It requires all WAN devices in the OTV domain to be a Cisco Device.  Cisco has proposed OTV to IETF, but it is unclear whether OTV will become an industry standard.
2    Does not support Traffic Engineering: MPLS based solutions support traffic engineering that allows Optimal Bandwidth utilization using MPLS Traffic Engineering.
3    Does not offer a high level of resiliency: In case of a WAN link failure, OTV over IP takes seconds to converge; with MPLS FRR, convergence takes less than 50ms.
4    Does not support same level of reliability as E-VPN: OTV traffic is carried over the untrusted WAN using IP, which is not as reliable as MPLS/E-VPN.  
5    OTV on the Nexus Switches in the data center core sits at the wrong place in the network for L2 Stretch. The optimum place is at the data center edge where the Juniper MX routers sit.

Issues with How OTV Works
OTV is an IP based protocol that does not natively support Traffic Engineering like MPLS based solutions do. OTV will likely have serious scalability problems as the number of sites grows, as it is transporting Unicast traffic on Unicast transport and needs adjacency servers. The adjacency servers are facilitators in establishing adjacencies between the edge devices; this implies that the edge devices still establish n*(n-1)/2 links to signal adjacencies with each other. MPLS/VPLS solutions use Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) based signaling (RR) to avoid the scalability problems. The RR, unlike the adjacency servers, are not mere facilitators for establishing adjacencies but maintain adjacencies thereby resolving the n*(n-1)/2 scalability problems.

Cisco recommends transporting Unicast traffic on Multicast transport. Such a design introduces significant complexity. OTV supports a proprietary version of P2MP based multicast to limit multicast packets from reaching other destinations. OTV must be configured to flood unknown Unicast addresses, in scenarios, when MAC addresses are not advertised such as that for Microsoft Cluster. OTV floods the initial ARP packets and snoops the response packets to create the ARP proxy cache, thus OTV is not free of ARP broadcasts.

All the benefits that OTV claims to provide such as single protocol, and auto discovery come standard in a standards-based MPLS protocol that provides additional benefits such as resiliency and efficient bandwidth management. Further, OTV does require significant configuration in each of sites and requires designated routers such as Authoritative Edge Devices, and requires configuration of join-interfaces, adjacency servers, control group, data group, extend-VLAN, dedicated control VLAN etc.

The Caveats with FabricPath
OTV and FabricPath don’t work together. These notes are from Cisco’s documentation. 

“Because OTV encapsulation is done on M-series modules, OTV cannot read FabricPath packets. Because of this restriction, terminating FabricPath and reverting to Classical Ethernet where the OTV VDC resides is necessary.”
“In addition, when running FabricPath in your network, Cisco recommends that you use the spanning-tree domain <id> command on all devices that are participating in these VLANs to speed up convergence times.”

Source: Overlay Transport Virtualization Best Practices Guide.

Why E-VPN is the Right Choice for L2 Extension
Customers who want to do live VM migration from data center to data center realize the value of a good L2 stretch implementation. With OTV Cisco sought to appeal to this need, but not with what we think is the optimal technology. Juniper has supported VM migration with VPLS in the past and now supports it with E-VPN. Juniper’s has always supported standards-based MPLS technology for the enterprise data center.

MPLS/E-VPN is an industry standard encapsulation. It is a multi-vendor solutions vs. single vendor / single platform. It is an open solution allowing multiple vendors to compete. It is connection oriented, instead of connectionless. It provides fault detection, notification, management (predictable service quality including latency). It provides resilience with active/active multi-homing, fast convergence, improved administrative and policy control, and an easier migration and interworking path to enable new services.

What Cisco Says About EVPN
“To support service providers, Cisco is working with other network vendors to standardize a resilient and massively scalable solution using Ethernet VPN, which will extend Layer 2 traffic over MPLS.

Cisco introduced MAC routing to the L2VPN space in 2009. E-VPN takes the VPN principles introduced and matured by OTV and ports them into a Border Gateway Protocol(BGP) based standard proposal that leverages the MPLS data plane that SPs are used to operate upon. One could think of E-VPN as OTV over a native MPLS transport.
In addition to its strength and high scalability, E-VPN improves redundancy and multicast optimization in MPLS with all-active attachment circuits for multi-homing deployment, which are usually missing in traditional VPLS-based LAN extension solutions and were introduced with MAC routing by OTV.”

Source: Distributed Virtual Data Center for Enterprise and Service Provider Cloud.


 “We have previewed E-VPN and PBB-EVPN with service providers from around the world and have received overwhelmingly positive responses. Their feedback points to flexible multi-homing capabilities as most attractive feature, while others also benefit from the scale provided by PBB-EVPN. Currently, we are planning early field trials with several of them as we speak.”

Source: E-VPN and PBB-EVPN Take Data Center Interconnect to the Next Level.


“The E-VPN solution is being designed to address all of the above requirements and more by performing MAC distribution and learning, over the MPLS network, in the control plane using multiprotocol BGP. While E-VPN introduces a paradigm shift from existing VPLS and VPWS solutions, it does bring L2VPN technologies closer to L3VPN in terms of the general operational model and underlying protocol machinery. As such, it can be characterized as an evolution of MPLS-based L2VPN solutions to enable a richer set of capabilities and introduce a new set of services.”

Source: Evolving Provider L2VPN Services with E-VPN


Juniper’s E-VPN Solution
Juniper has used open as a guiding principle and has thus builds standards-based protocols into our platforms (MPLS/VPLS, and now E-VPN).  This gives customers the most flexibility in their choice of equipment and architectures and ensures that they are not stuck with the choices that they make as their needs change in the future. We feel that for L2 data center interconnect standards-based E-VPN is a better choice over the proprietary OTV with its limited set of supported equipment.

For more information on Juniper’s E-VPN solution see my previous blogs:

Optimizing EVPN for Virtual Machine Mobility over the WAN

Enhancing VM Mobility with VxLAN, OVSDB and EVPN

Mar 3, 2014
Robert Blayzor

A good read but I think it misses the mark a bit.  OTV and E-VPN are to serve two slightly different purposes.  The fundamental difference is that E-VPN requires an MPLS enabled network while OTV just requires only a IP network.  To that point, OTV actually has an advantage over E-VPN where MPLS is not always an option.  I would agree that in a higharchical deisgn that E-VPN is probably a more flexible, scalable and elegant option; but that's a choice in a perfect world.  OTV fills the gap where datacenters have limited options on how they can connect different sites, especially since most datacenters do not control their own transport networks.


Mar 3, 2014

Robert thank you for your comment


The mark I am hitting is that people should be aware of the risk of deploying OTV. It has appeal for the reasons that you say, of seeming to be an easy to deploy option for organizations that don't control their network. It gives the appearance of providing control by deploying from the core switch when you don't control the edge router.


The reality is that you don't have control because it locks you in to one vendor for the future and makes you dependant on their roadmap for the product line that supports it, which isn't even every core switch. It also lures you in to deploying a solution that isn't as proven in deployment like MPLS is.


If you don't control your network then you are getting it from a service provider and you can request the E-VPN service from them. They will most likely have MPLS running on their network as most are standardized on it. They are looking to deploy new and better services for critical needs such as virtual machine mobility and are implementing E-VPN.

If you are an organization that is large enough to run your own network, such as a global enterprise, then should hire people who will deploy services in a way that keeps your options open to be able to change equipment and methods of service delivery in the future.


Organizations need to build their networks to solve problems in an open way that gives them the most flexibility and not fall prey to solutions that are based on one vendor's way of doing things that lock them in and limit their future choices.


Mar 19, 2014
VIctor Gonzalez

Very timely blog post. we have a DC migration/consolidation project in the next few months. 


Where one DC is all Cisco .. and the other is a mix of Juniper and Cisco, Juniper at the core Cisco at the edge. 


Given all the proprietary elements in play , its better to focus on technologies that are built on open standards. Building a flexible agile networks should be a top concern. For my money the author has hit the mark on this blog. 




Mar 20, 2014
Victor Moreno

Hi Michael,


There are quite a few innacuracies in your understanding of the OTV technology and its productization.

In any case, EVPN simply confirms the validity of the OTV approach by standardizing the concepts introduced by OTV back in 2010. This process of Cisco innovation being standardized is not new to the industry( e.g. HSRP lead to VRRP, the list is long).

OTV has at this point matured through broad customer deployment since its inception in 2010 both on Nexus and ASR products. EVPN is a new technology and may be a useful tool, for those running MPLS networks, but its implementation will need to mature first.

As for the right place to deploy a LAN extension, that is what the OTV CE solution brings to the table that MPLS based PE solutions don't. OTV was designed to provide the flexibility to bring the LAN extension to the devices that actually have the LANs already present on them without requiring changes to the site or core design. The design you propose requires that the site topology be altered just to bring the LANs to the MX routers that are not in the ideal spot to provide LAN extensions.

There is a broad base of Data Center designs and both OTV and EVPN will continue to have a role to play in providing CE and PE solutions respectively. The good news is that the principles on which these services are based are now converging. So EVPN doesn't spell the end of OTV as much as OTV doesn't spell the end of EVPN.

Mar 27, 2014



Why vendors like cisco and Juniper can't use SPB?

I don't see why DC should run MPLS  just for more VLAN without STP....




Mar 18, 2018

Those are two different approaches to a single issue. But, regardless of their relevence to any specific vendor, both have cons & pros. If you need to connect several DCs which are at different geographical places, both use untrusted WAN connections. Neigher EVPN nor OTV require MPLS. EVPN is standard protocol, so every vendor support it on all or some of its products. But OTV doesn't need to be supported on every device; That is, you need to implement it "only" on edge devices and others are completely unaware of it. 

OTV has some pre-built features which VXLAN EVPN doesn't have. For example, it doesn't allow STP and other mostly BUM traffic to traverse over WAN links. But broadcast messages are problems in VXLAN EVPN, specially when there is a very big network. VXLAN is highly dependent on multicast, and all of the devices, including leaves and cores, need to support it and be configured to transfer BUM traffic. AS I read on Internet, VXLAN EVPN is intraDC and OTV is a DCI-based solution. Even you can use both simultaneously to use both advantages.