Network virtualization (NV) is the process of merging software and hardware network functionality and resources into a single virtual network. This provides access to data streams and routing features that can offer newer, service-aware, and more robust solutions. Generally, when we speak of virtualization, we talk about hardware virtualization.
Hardware virtualization, also referred to as server virtualization or simply virtualization, refers to the creation of a virtual machine (VM) instance on a host machine that looks and behaves like an independent computer system, with an operating system (OS) and software.
The software on the VM is abstracted from the host machine’s resources, running its own “guest” computer. Hardware virtualization is being rapidly embraced by information technology (IT) teams, as it enables the dynamic allocation of hardware resources to VMs when needed and enables complete utilization of computing resources.
While there are numerous benefits of network virtualization, several serious challenges are posed as well. In this guide, we will explore these challenges and detail their solutions.
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Why Network Virtualization is Challenging
When organizations implement network virtualization inside their IT infrastructure, no doubt they can benefit from enhanced security, scalability, flexibility, and performance. However, organizations must overcome both technical and non-technical network virtualization challenges to get it right.
For example, IT staff, operational technology (OT) staff, and system administrators (sysadmins) must know their IT infrastructure inside out. They must know exactly what their IT infrastructure is doing, what they want it to do, and how it is poised for future expansion.
Essentially, they need to ascertain that the current, physical IT infrastructure is ready for a virtualization outlay and has enough availability to operate more efficiently. This is one of the many challenges organizations must face.
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Network Virtualization Challenges and Their Solutions
Here are the top network virtualization challenges and how to solve them.
Extreme changes to network architecture
Naturally, the first major hurdle is successfully migrating from a physically-intensive network architecture that is heavily reliant on firewalls, switches, routers, etc. to a virtualization architecture.
While virtualized network services are advantageous, as they are pooled and can be shifted about and scaled up or down at will, the process of migration to a virtualized platform demands careful consideration and is far from straightforward. It is imperative that architects carefully plan the migration and fully understand what the organization needs from its network.
A complete audit of existing services and applications is crucial. Planning includes proper calculation of resources that will be consumed by virtualized network services, determining the best manner to integrate security services and network resiliency, and determining virtualized network service rollout to ensure business continuity.
IT staff must acquire new skills
IT staff may undergo a steep learning curve during and after migration. IT teams must fully understand the intricacies of the deployment and operational maintenance of a virtualized platform.
Network operations (NetOps) staff must be fully versed with the basic and complex tasks pertaining to network virtualization services (virtual LAN creation, access control, scaling out services, etc.). Additionally, they must develop skills in network security tool virtualization. Having these staff work with trained, third-party professionals is the preferred approach.
In-house sysadmins must work with NetOps staff in close quarters to help them better understand the virtual network configuration.
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Losing network visibility
Data center and legacy network monitoring tools may lose visibility into the many abstracted, logical technology layers that are created as a result of network virtualization. In some cases, while visibility may be achieved, these tools are unable to properly display information. This makes it difficult for network operations to make sense of the information.
The best solution is to employ modern network visibility tools. These tools can greatly enhance the typically manual process of improving network visibility.
Knowledge and skill silos
Eliminating the knowledge and skill silos that may emerge upon migrating to a virtualized network is paramount. Traditionally, IT teams focus on a single discipline, be it server management, cybersecurity, or networking. These fields now overlap and co-exist in several areas, and cross-training staff and opening lines of communication are important.
Consolidating the management of these siloed teams may open up lines of communication and help everyone be on the same page.
Automation and artificial intelligence (AI)
With network virtualization comes an increase in self-service processes, AI, and automation. These tasks reduce management overhead and significantly speed-up network changes. That said, they require a new set of processes and standards to be documented and put into place.
As each task can now be managed from a centralized control plane, it is best to move IT teams away from automated network tasks. Their new role is to ensure the alignment of underlying automation processes and AI and the fulfillment of automated tasks.
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Future Trends in Network Virtualization
Here are a few future trends in network virtualization:
Better management tools will hit the market
A virtualized network offers several benefits but may falter due to poor oversight and control. Vendors are realizing the need for robust management tools and are rushing to the market. As better management tools hit the market, the number of adopters will increase.
Network virtualization will get easier
With time, virtualization will get easier to plan, deploy, and maintain. As the knowledge base grows and the technology matures, market-savvy vendors and products will hit the market, the technology will become less intimidating, and users will find virtualized networks easier to manage.
Network virtualization promotes green IT, owing to the significantly less number of physical servers necessary to power a virtualized network. This reduces energy costs and will clearly lead to greater adoption in the future.
Impacting Other Markets
Network virtualization will help accelerate enterprise digital transformation, drive hybrid multicloud growth, and lead to greater network security and optimization.