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Network Virtualization

(Part I) Network Virtualization

This is the first part in the series of posts dedicated to network virtualization and path isolation.

Virtualization is a technique of simulating a hardware device by using software, usually on standard x86 CPU based servers. Hardware devices that are being virtualized are (in the order from most common) servers, firewalls, switches and routers. Almost all devices that you can think of can be virtualized, we listed the most common ones used within network operations. By using virtualization, we are able to run multiple virtual instances (virtual contexts) of a device, in the same way like we would run “real” hardware devices. Each of these virtualized instances is, of course, running independently and usually operating with separate configuration, enabling separation by purpose. Virtual instances are usually running as multiple contexts on specialised, virtualization enabled device or as Virtual Machines (VMs) on a Hypervisor platform like VMWare of Hyper-V.

Network Virtualization is part of above explained virtualization. It is virtulization of networking devices. We are using network virtualization with VLANs on switches to enable multiple broadcast domains (LAN segments) to be connected on one single switch. We are doing the same thing on layer 3 with enabling the router to run multiple routing instances by implementing VRF configuration on it. With VRF we are splitting the router into multiple routers, with VLANs we are splitting switch into multiple switches. We are doing this with the use of software but only on specialized hardware devices that are virtualization enabled.

There are two network elements we can virtualize

Network virtualization can be as simple as running firewall on a VMWare host. In this case we are just skipping the usage of real hardware appliance for firewalling task.

Things can get more complex with requirements for path isolation. Different categories of traffic then need to use same physical devices and their interconnections and have complete data communication isolation between them. Here we are in a situation where we will need to virtualize not only the above mentioned firewall but also router forwarding plane and interconnections between network devices.


VRF enables the router to run more “virtual” instances of routing and forwarding table. VLANs separate switch port groups into separate broadcast domains/isolated segments. Firewall can have trunk link with subinterfaces of which each one is separate zone forwarding traffic for one router VRF. Image on top shows three different isolated paths which are forwarded through same devices/interconnections. Below, physical topology is shown.

Ok that’s it! We can not only virtualize network devices but the paths between them to. Let’s see what that means.

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