What is the Difference Between VDC and VRF?

Virtual Device Contexts (VDCs) and Virtual Routing and Forwarding (VRFs) are two critical concepts in network virtualization. These techniques allow the creation of multiple independent networks on a single device, serving a variety of purposes.

What is a VDC?

A VDC, primarily in the context of Cisco networking, is a feature of Nexus series switches allowing for the logical grouping of resources on a Layer 3 switch. This technique facilitates the creation of multiple independent Layer 3 networks on a single physical device. Such a strategy is valuable for isolating distinct customer networks or generating different development and test environments.

Each VDC maintains its independent routing table, VLANs, Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) instance, First Hop Redundancy Protocol (FHRP) instance, Routing Information Base (RIB) Data Plane, configuration, and administrative capability. This means that each VDC is a completely separate network, and traffic between VDCs is not allowed by default. However, keep in mind that not all Layer 3 switches support VDCs – it’s a feature often associated with Cisco’s Nexus series.

What is a VRF?

A VRF is a method used to logically separate routing tables on a Layer 3 device, often utilized alongside VDCs for more refined network isolation. Each VRF has its routing table, enabling the same IP address to be used across different VRFs on the same device without causing conflicts. This feature is especially important in extensive network environments where IP address space may be limited.

While VRFs can share the same VLANs, STP instance, FHRP instance, RIB Data Plane, configuration, and administrative capability as other VRFs on the same device, they still isolate traffic, allowing it only between VRFs but not between different VRFs.

How are VDCs and VRFs different?

The principal distinction between VDCs and VRFs lies in their application: VDCs logically separate resources on a device, whereas VRFs logically separate routing tables on a device.

VDCs provide a more granular level of isolation compared to VRFs, however, VRFs offer efficiency and the capacity to generate more intricate network topologies.

When should I use VDCs and VRFs?

VDCs are a suitable choice when creating multiple independent networks on a single device and when requiring a high level of isolation between networks.

VRFs are the preferred option for generating complex network topologies or improving network efficiency. They are also beneficial when you need to permit traffic between different networks while maintaining separation and security.


VDCs and VRFs are powerful tools for network virtualization. They offer high flexibility and control, catering to a range of networking needs. The decision to use VDCs, VRFs, or both hinges on the specific requirements of a network design and the capabilities of the network devices used. In complex environments, VDCs and VRFs are often used in tandem to provide layered network segmentation and isolation.