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Network virtualization

Network virtualization definition

Network virtualization is the process of abstracting network hardware into software processes to create a virtual network. Thanks to network virtualization, administrators are able to run multiple discrete virtual networks on the same physical infrastructure.

Network virtualization is closely related to the concept of software-defined networking (SDN), where network control is decoupled from the underlying hardware. It should not be confused with network function virtualization, which is the process of adding virtual functions (such as proxies, firewalls, deep packet inspection, and load balancing) to a physical network.

See also: network function virtualization, data center virtualization, software-defined networking, virtual switch

How network virtualization works

Network virtualization abstracts physical network components (like switches and routers) into software-based representations to create a virtual layer that operates independently of physical hardware.

Network virtualization is commonly used to create virtual local area networks (VLANs), segmenting a physical network into multiple isolated virtual networks. Devices on a VLAN communicate as though they were on a separate physical network.

Types of network virtualization

  • External network virtualization (network overlay virtualization) involves creating virtual networks that span across multiple physical network infrastructures, often across data centers or even geographical locations. This type of virtualization allows different physical networks to act as a single cohesive network.
  • Internal network virtualization (network segmentation or internal network isolation), divides a single physical network into multiple isolated virtual networks. Internal network virtualization enhances an organization’s security, simplifies network management, and improves overall efficiency.