With so much attention focused on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and cloud computing, it’s easy to overlook innovations happening in network technology. Even though these advances don’t receive much limelight, many industry experts believe they’re among the most important things happening today in the tech world.
The increasing sophistication and adoption of network virtualization is top of the list. Because commerce today is so reliant on networks, the potential use cases of network virtualization are applicable to almost every sector of the economy. Companies involved in data, cybersecurity, telecommunications, banking, healthcare and consumer technology can all benefit from more secure networks with lower latency and increased capacity¾the hallmarks of network virtualization.
A recent survey by SDxCentral found that 88% of respondents said it’s “important” or “mission critical” to adopt a network virtualization solution in the next two to five years. Additionally, the survey found that network virtualization is essential to help IT address three pressing needs in the data center: flexibility, scalability, and cost savings—OPEX and CAPEX.[i]
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What is network virtualization?
Network virtualization combines hardware and software network resources and network functionality into a single, software-based entity, commonly known as a virtual network. It provides the capability to centrally program and provision networks, on-demand, without having to physically touch underlying infrastructure or install new equipment once a virtual network device is deployed. As a result, companies can quickly roll out, scale and adjust workloads to meet their evolving computing needs. Network virtualization is a game changer. It has converted networks from being static, inflexible and inefficient to become dynamic, agile and optimized. And with today’s challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, instantaneous remote deployment of virtual network devices, such as SD-WANs, virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls and cloud routers, is critical.
Security, speed and agility benefits
For businesses and consumers alike, improved security is the most frequently cited advantage of virtual networks. The sophistication of virtual networks allows for micro-segmentation, a technique that enables IT experts to deploy flexible security policies deep inside a data center using network virtualization technology instead of installing multiple physical firewalls. It allows operators to insert programs, such as encryption, firewalls, VPNs and other security features into the fabric of virtual networks in ways that are not possible with physical networks.
In addition, network virtualization improves the speed and productivity of IT services. Companies that virtualize their networks can reduce their dependence on hardware and dramatically reduce expenses. And they can increase the speed of application delivery, cutting application deployment time from weeks to minutes.
Virtualization is not the same as cloud
Because virtualization and cloud overlap each other, companies that invest in one usually invest in both. Virtualization is a technology that allows you to create multiple simulated environments or dedicated resources from a single, physical hardware system. Clouds are IT environments that abstract, pool, and share scalable resources across a network. Simply put, virtualization is a technology. Cloud is an environment.
Equinix helps enterprises accelerate their adoption of network virtualization by focusing on Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), two key innovations that have transformed network management, particularly for widely-distributed networks that use public, private or hybrid cloud services. SDN serves the modern networking need to manage Local Area Networks (LAN), while its closely related cousin, Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN), is used to connect geographically distributed locations and remote users.
Getting started with SD-WAN
As applications move to the cloud, the approach of backhauling traffic from remote branches to a corporate data center using traditional wide area network (WAN) circuits may not be optimal or cost effective. That’s when companies turn to SD-WAN. It allows companies to optimize traffic across a mix of network connections—internet and MPLS—based on real-time availability and performance needs. SD-WAN architecture connects branches, data centers and clouds, at a lower cost compared to traditional WAN architectures. Platform Equinix® offers a global SDN-based, interconnected ecosystem via Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) in more than 45 markets, enabling global interconnection between 160+ Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers.
Network Functions Virtualization
With an SD-WAN in place, the next logical step is NFV. NFV provides the ability to replace physical networking appliances such as routers, load balancers, firewalls and VPN terminators with virtual devices that run on commodity hardware. This eliminates the inherent drawbacks of protracted procurement cycles and the installation associated with physical hardware devices. In many ways, this approach mirrors the as-a-service approach characteristic of cloud services.
Network Edge from Equinix provides a digital marketplace of vendor-neutral, virtual network functions that allows customers to select, deploy and connect both network and security devices in minutes. The rich interconnection capabilities give network architects the flexibility to:
- Connect to clouds in regions without the need to establish a physical presence in the area
- Deploy virtual routers for cloud-to-cloud connectivity to eliminate data throughput delays caused by backhaul routing through corporate data centers
- Configure SD-WAN services to securely connect branch offices with regional data center hubs, aggregate traffic and eliminate the need to provide multiple connections from branches to data centers
- Deploy a virtual firewall between corporate apps and the public cloud to protect corporate data center applications from the risk of attack from public-facing applications
In growing numbers, enterprises are realizing the power of network virtualization to transform their IT from hardware-based infrastructures to agile, software-based architectures. Equinix provides the ideal infrastructure and environment to maximize these benefits.
See for yourself what network virtualization can do to accelerate your network optimization and modernization. Check out our free trial of Network Edge.