You can implement the switch fabric at the physical layer of an SDDC by providing Layer 2 or Layer 3 transport services. For a scalable and vendor-neutral data center network, use a Layer 3 transport.

VMware Validated Design supports both Layer 2 and Layer 3 transports. When you decide whether to use Layer 2 or Layer 3, consider the certain factors.

  • NSX ECMP Edge devices establish Layer 3 routing adjacency with the first upstream Layer 3 device to provide equal cost routing for management and workload traffic.

  • The investment in your current physical network infrastructure.

  • The benefits and drawbacks for both Layer 2 and Layer 3 designs.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Layer 2 Transport

A design using Layer 2 transport has these considerations:

  • In a design that uses Layer 2 transport, top of rack switches and upstream Layer 3 devices, such as core switches or routers, form a switched fabric.

  • The upstream Layer 3 devices terminate each VLAN and provide default gateway functionality.

  • Uplinks from the top of rack switch to the upstream Layer 3 devices are 802.1Q trunks carrying all required VLANs.

Table 1. Benefits and Drawbacks of Layer 2 Transport




  • More design freedom.

  • You can span VLANs, which can be useful in some circumstances.


  • The size of such a deployment is limited because the fabric elements have to share a limited number of VLANs.

  • You might have to rely on a specialized data center switching fabric product from a single vendor.

Figure 1. Example Layer 2 Transport

Example Layer 2 transport where each VLAN ends at the level of the upstream router.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Layer 3 Transport

A design using Layer 3 transport has these considerations:

  • Layer 2 connectivity is limited in the data center rack up to the top of rack switches.

  • The top of rack switch terminates each VLAN and provides default gateway functionality. That is, it has a switch virtual interface (SVI) for each VLAN.

  • Uplinks from the top of rack switch to the upstream layer are routed point-to-point links. You cannot use VLAN trunking on the uplinks.

  • A dynamic routing protocol, such as OSPF, IS-IS, or BGP, connects the top of rack switches and upstream switches. Each top of rack switch in the rack advertises a small set of prefixes, typically one per VLAN or subnet. In turn, the top of rack switch calculates equal cost paths to the prefixes it receives from other top of rack switches.

Table 2. Benefits and Drawbacks of Layer 3 Transport




  • You can select from many Layer 3 capable switch products for the physical switching fabric.

  • You can mix switches from different vendors because of the general interoperability between the implementation of OSPF, IS-IS or BGP.

  • This approach is usually more cost effective because it uses of only the basic functionality of the physical switches.


  • VLANs are restricted to a single rack. The restriction can affect VMware vSphere® Fault Tolerance and storage networks.

    To overcome this limitation, use Layer 2 bridging in NSX.

Figure 2. Example Layer 3 Transport

Example Layer 3 transport where each VLAN terminates at the level of the top of rack switch. You use OSPF, IS-IS, or BGP between the top of rack and upstream router layers.