ACLs vs. full firewalls

Matthew Petach mpetach at
Tue Apr 7 16:20:52 CDT 2009

On 4/7/09, Michael Helmeste <mhelmest at> wrote:
> Hi all,
>   One of the duties of my current place of employ is reorganizing the
>  network. We have a few Catalyst 6500 series L3 switches, but currently
>  do all packet filtering (and some routing) using a software based
>  firewall. Don't ask me, I didn't design it :)
>   Current security requirements are only based on TCP and non-stateful
>  UDP src/dst net/port filtering, and so my suggestion was to use ACLs
>  applied on the routed interface of each VLAN. There was some talk of
>  using another software based firewall or a Cisco FWSM card to filter
>  traffic at the border, mostly for management concerns. We expect full 1
>  gig traffic levels today, and 10 gig traffic levels in the future.
>   I view ACLs as being a cheap, easy to administrate solution that
>  scales with upgrades to new interface line speeds, where a full stateful
>  firewall isn't necessary. However, I wanted to get other opinions of
>  what packet filtering solutions people use in the border and in the
>  core, and why.

ACLs are a cheap solution; ease of administration depends on your
scale in terms of number of entries.  Keep in mind that depending
on your hardware platform, using ACLs can run into unexpected
limitations.  If you're considering doing this on the 6500 platform,
read up on TCAM limitations and L4Op/LOU operator limits:

It can be a very rude awakening when you add one more seemingly
innocuous ilne to your ACL, and discover the entire thing has suddenly
gone into software switched mode.

With that caveat aside, there are many large sites that do make
use of ACLs as part of their security repetoire.  It's definitely
something to consider, just be aware of your hardware platform's
limitations before diving in headfirst.


>   What's out there, and why do you guys use it? How do you feel about
>  the scalability, performance, security, and manageability of your
>  solution? What kind of traffic levels do you put through it?

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