Traditional hardware maintenance has always bogged down enterprises with regular upgrade and maintenance schedules, high-cost fixes and replacements, and even the challenge of moving specialized hardware to wherever their employees work. The complicated logistics and high costs of hardware management have led many companies to virtualization, or the practice of converting computer storage, servers, and other network hardware into virtual versions so that they can more easily be maintained and deployed across a network.
Network virtualization is a more all-encompassing version of virtualization that makes it possible to convert physical network hardware into software that can easily be transitioned to different domains as needed, increasing flexibility and scalability for the network. Read on to learn about some of the top network virtualization technologies on the market and how they increase network management efficiencies for system administrators.
Network Virtualization Solutions to Consider
- What is Network Virtualization?
- Top Network Virtualization Market Solutions
- Features in Network Virtualization Tools
- Enterprise Benefits of Network Virtualization
Network virtualization focuses on creating a software-based view and management of the network, which means that traditional network hardware is converted into more flexible and portable software versions. The process of creating a virtual network involves separating the network’s management plane from the control plane and combining existing hardware and software network components into a unified software entity. Virtual networks typically hold onto their hardware for solutions like packet forwarding, but all other network functionalities are now performed on the virtualized network and completely decoupled from their previous hardware.
Depending on an enterprise network’s goals and existing hardware and software, they may choose amongst one of the three types of network virtualization:
- Internal virtualization: This type of virtualization uses several software containers to mimic the behaviors of a single network.
- External virtualization: This type of virtualization focuses on combining several localized networks into a single virtual network, in order to decrease distributed management and increase overall network efficiency.
- Cloud-based virtualization: Cloud-based virtualization can look like either internal or external virtualization, but it instead uses cloud-based computing resources to create a virtual network.
Although network virtualization shares some similarities with another common kind of virtualization called server virtualization, server virtualization is a more localized issue that simply requires virtualization actions between the primary software workload and the virtual machine. Network virtualization is more complicated because of the distributed nature of the hardware and software involved; no one solution or panel makes it possible to control the virtualization process. In other words, network virtualization is more difficult logistically because more pieces of technology with their own rules are involved in the digital transformation.
More on Server Virtualization: Best Server Virtualization Software of 2021
VMware NSX is considered the industry standard for network virtualization and security. Their primary focus is to bring networking and security closer to the application and the virtual machine where it’s running. Many users rely on VMware NSX for use cases and enterprise goals like zero trust security, multicloud networking, network automation, container networking, SDN automation, rapid workload mobility, and load balancing. Beyond traditional virtual machines, NSX also offers top security and monitoring features for containerized apps and microservices.
- One-click, automated provisioning through a complete L2-L7 stack
- Single pane of glass management for public and private clouds, VMs, containers, and bare metal setups
- Network segmentation and micro-segmentation to the individual workload
- Contextual security policies and IDS/IPS for lateral threat combatting
- Blueprints to automate provisioning and management of networking and security services and to deliver infrastructure as code
Top Pro: Virtualized security features are strong and numerous, ranging from end-to-end encryption on the wire to microsegmentation and end-to-end observability.
Top Con: Some users have experienced trouble with the interoperability of outside vendors and their products.
Cisco Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization is a Cisco-powered solution for the deployment and ongoing management of virtual networks. Like many other network virtualization solutions, Cisco’s goal with this tool is to make localized enterprise operations simpler by reducing hosting hardware and moving networking functions to software on x86-based platforms. This product helps enterprise network administrators to monitor network issues all in one place, while also providing additional resources to orchestrate and manage services that increase the speed of incident response.
- Can be deployed on any platform, ranging from virtual platforms, Cisco platforms, and third-party devices
- Enterprise NFV-optimized platforms to increase efficiency in deployment
- NFVIS feature includes Linux-based virtualization layer, increasing deployment options for Cisco and third-party VNFs
- Supports service chaining, lifecycle management, and open APIs
- Includes network services as software: routing, firewall, application acceleration, and wireless LAN controller
Top Pro: Cisco has a strong background in network security and offers several advanced security features to its NFV customers.
Top Con: Some users have expressed interest in modularized upgrade offerings.
FlexiHub functions as more of a third-party support resource once you have already virtualized your network, or even as an alternative for enterprises that require a large amount of mobile hardware maintenance and want to outsource those operations. This solution is a particularly strong one for enterprises in the service industry, as FlexiHub’s core goals involve creating virtual network connections or providing support for customers remote sensor, vehicle, or smartphone diagnostics. However, remote maintenance, monitoring, and troubleshooting can also be applied to enterprise devices and other hardware, making it a strong solution for companies that have a distributed workforce and want to use a third-party service for their IT department.
- Remote customer support, diagnostics, USB device repair, and maintenance of industry-specific equipment across distributed locations
- Interface to securely share USB and serial port devices over the Internet for remote tech assistance.
- Monitoring and maintenance of remote enterprise equipment
- Ability to redirect a company’s USB and COM port equipment to any cloud-based virtual machine
- Network admins can connect to customer smartphones wirelessly and troubleshoot issues remotely
Top Pro: IoT device and data management are included, making this an advanced third-party service for traditional and mobile enterprise devices.
Top Con: Some users have noticed that Flexihub does not always recognize remote devices attempting to connect.
The SolarWinds Virtualization Manager does not assist in the migration or initial launch of network tools in a virtual environment, but this tool does act as strong support in areas like hypervisor management, virtual machine monitoring, and troubleshooting. Because this software is so focused on virtual network performance management, Virtualization Manager particularly shines in offering single-panel data visualizations and other analytics customizations that make it possible for sysadmins to better understand needed solutions. SolarWinds Virtualization Manager is often integrated with the SolarWinds Orion Platform, which can be a useful integration for users who also require additional storage resource monitoring (SRM), virtualization management (VMAN), and network performance monitoring (NPM).
- Capacity planning tools
- VM sprawl management
- Predictive recommendations
- Management available across on-premises, hybrid, and cloud infrastructure
- Visibility across the entire application stack
Top Pro: This SolarWinds product makes it possible to troubleshoot a variety of enterprise virtualization setups— server, storage, and virtual networks — all from a single management panel.
Top Con: Many users consider the SolarWinds licensing process to be complicated and expensive.
oVirt is a free, open source virtualization solution run on the KVM hypervisor and built on community projects like libvirt, Gluster, PatternFly, and Ansible. The solution is a strong virtualization management platform for developers who want to customize their source code and work with a community of fellow developers for troubleshooting and optimization. Much like other open source platforms, oVirt offers extensive documentation, communities, forums, and blogs to guide enterprise developers as they implement oVirt solutions.
- Uses the KVM hypervisor
- Web-based user interfaces for admin and non-admin users
- Integrated management of hosts, storage, and network configuration
- Live migration of virtual machines and disks between hosts and storage
- High availability of virtual machines in the event of host failure
Top Pro: Reviews call this product easy to use and manage, especially for virtualized storage management.
Top Con: Although the tool is compatible with other vendors’ products, most vendors do not recognize or know how to incorporate oVirt solutions.
Vagrant is open source software by HashiCorp that specializes in developing and managing portable virtual software development environments. The primary intention behind this product is to streamline software configuration management in order to increase the efficiencies possible on a virtual network. Major platforms such as VirtualBox, KVM, Hyper-V, Docker, VMware, and AWS are compatible with Vagrant development environments. Although open source solutions are typically more accessible for developers and other roles familiar with code, Vagrant’s unified workflow approach is designed to make workflows legible and actionable across enterprise specialties.
- Same workflow operation regardless of role: developers, operators, and designers can work in the same format
- Mirrored production environments with the same operating system, packages, users, and configurations for testing
- Integrations with configuration management tools like Ansible, Chef, Docker, Puppet, and Salt
- Vagrant works across Mac, Linux, Windows, and most other platforms
- Declarative configuration file describes all software requirements, packages, operating system configuration, and users
Top Pro: Vagrant offers detailed documentation to explain their features and guide developers and non-developers through the deployment process.
Top Con: The command line in Vagrant and other initial deployment features are considered more complicated than similar features in Linux and other tools.
Altaro VM Backup is a popular backup and replication solution designed for virtual machines. Perhaps its strongest feature is deduplication through Augmented Inline Deduplication. Altaro VM Backup increases backup efficiencies and decreases storage space needed by running deduplication across all backup jobs, regardless of whether users group virtual machines or apply post-processing. As a result, the storage space needed for a virtual network decreases significantly and affords major cost-savings to enterprises.
- Single console management and monitoring of Hyper-V and VMware hosts
- WAN-optimized replication for remotely located VMs
- Continuous VM backups to retrieve data in data loss scenarios
- Backup copies of VMs can be stored in multiple offsite locations, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon S3, Wasabi, or enterprise offsite servers
- Archive different backup versions through separate backup cycles
Top Pro: The variety of VM backup options is a great resource for disaster recovery needs.
Top Con: File share and file-specific backup have been problematic for some users.
In the process of network virtualization, many network administrators worry that they will lose the previous operational visibility they had gained on legacy hardware and software. GigaVUE-VM is Gigamon’s primary solution to combat this problem, offering additional network monitoring and traffic forwarding to external security and monitoring solutions that a company uses. Users can either monitor their virtual environments via the GigaVUE-VM interface, or they can continue using their previous security and monitoring solutions because of the forwarding feature. GigaVUE-VM is also closely integrated with VMware NSX and ESX, making it an ideal network visibility solution for VMware users.
- Increased VMware virtual network visibility for VMware ESXi infrastructure and automated VMware NSX environments
- VM network traffic forwarding to existing security and monitoring tools
- East-west traffic flow visibility
- Tracking of lateral propagation of threats in virtual environments
- Multi-tenant traffic visibility for OpenStack/KVM-powered clouds
Top Pro: Gigamon features are considered easy to deploy, especially through their certified partnership with VMware NSX.
Top Con: The tool is considered somewhat expensive, especially when compared to open source security alternatives.
The actual process of network virtualization and the tools that support networks post-virtualization offer a variety of features to make network visibility and remote management possible:
- Software containers and container management: Containers are mostly relevant to internal virtualization; they are the separate components on a virtual network that make it possible to run previously separated operations on one virtual machine.
- Virtual machines: This is the more generic term for the unit that is created by the virtualization process; virtual machines can represent network, storage, and/or server functionalities.
- Management plane vs. control plane: The control plane is typically where localized network elements interact with each other, whereas the management plane is where humans become involved in network management efforts. Through the process of network virtualization, the management and control planes are separated so that primary network actions can be transitioned to software.
- Packet forwarding: Packet forwarding is the process of sharing information in packet format across network systems. In virtual networks, the only role that hardware continues to play is in packet forwarding.
- Network overlays: Sometimes created in the network virtualization process, network overlays are abstracted network layers that can run on top of the existing network.
- Hypervisors: Hypervisors create, run, and continue to monitor virtual machines. They are often thought of as the engines behind virtualization.
When enterprises decide to virtualize their network environments, many of them realize the following benefits:
Integrated Environment for Solutions Testing
Because virtualization brings disparate network hardware and software into a single virtual environment, it becomes easier for enterprises to test out new technology solutions and products that they want to roll out for their customers. Instead of testing different features in different ways, all testing can be done in an integrated environment where the team can perform diagnostics and make adjustments over time.
Avoiding Previous Hardware Expenses
Hardware is expensive to maintain, upgrade, and wholly replace. And especially as legacy systems grow older, they require additional specialized maintenance to remain functional. Virtual networks have their own costs, but typically cost far less than networks that rely on a wide variety of network hardware.
Task Automation and Network Scalability
A unified network environment also makes automation and scalability more possible because everything can happen in one place. Not to mention, scalability in a virtualized network doesn’t involve the purchase of additional hardware; instead, you can subscribe to additional software or even increase cloud-based applications and storage on your network.
Virtual networks make software- and cloud-powered security solutions work across all network components. With the variety of security vendors and managed security service providers (MSSPs) who specialize in these types of security, your security can be automated to more holistically monitor and fight against security threats.
Project Management and Agile Opportunities
One final benefit that many prospective customers realize after the fact of purchase is the increased success they find in agile project management. More users can easily access the network from remote locations because their functionality is no longer dependent on on-premises hardware. As a result, agile teams can function more efficiently and iteratively develop projects, regardless of their location.