When Networks Become Virtual

In 2016 analysts Gartner declared that the industry trend of server virtualization had reached maturity. Almost twenty years after the introduction of the very first virtualization functions, some of the companies questioned during the survey declared they had already virtualized 90% of their servers. On average, firms reported that they had a virtualization rate of 75% or higher.

Businesses virtualize their servers because they offer better security, data recovery, improved performance and flexibility as well as better IT support. The main reason for virtualization however is that it cuts costs for installation and maintenance of hardware – which often account for a large portion of a company’s IT budget.

But virtual servers are not the only area of virtualization which have an impact on the way companies work today. In recent years, virtualization has become a core functionality in corporate networks. It lays the foundation for substantial cost-savings on infrastructure, and allows companies to set up complex security scenarios.

What is Network Function Virtualization?

The concept of network virtualization as such is nothing new. Virtual routing as well as virtual LAN (VLAN) functions have been used by network vendors for years, for example, to separate a company’s different internal networks which nevertheless operate on a single, commonly shared hardware infrastructure consisting of gateways, switches and routers.

However, a more recent trend is the transformation of networking functions to become completely detached/independent from any hardware. This trend is called network function virtualization (NFV) and has gained traction in the last few years.

According to an introduction to this technology in a 2012 ETSI whitepaper, “Network Functions Virtualization aims to transform the way that network operators architect networks by evolving standard IT virtualization technology to consolidate many network equipment types onto industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage […].”

In general, NFV is mainly used to “replace” hardware-based functions such as virtual private networks (VPNs), security functions like firewalls, session border controllers or gateway functions like routing VLANs, with software-based equivalents. But what real advantages does this concept have for businesses?


Advantages of Network Function Virtualization

The most obvious advantage of using virtual network functions is that businesses can save large amounts of money when introducing new applications in the course of the digital transformation of work processes.

Expenditure for purpose-built hardware is reduced (CapEX) as well as the space, power and cooling requirements of the equipment. Simplified roll outs and management of network services help to limit further operational costs (OpEX) as virtual network functions can be run on inexpensive, bare-metal or white-box servers. NVF in general supports pay-as-you-grow models to eliminate wasteful over-provisioning and thus is highly future-proof and efficient.

But not only are costs reduced; deployment and service delivery are faster, too. The processes of deploying new networking services to support changing business requirements, seize new market opportunities, and improve the return on investment from new services are considerably accelerated. In case of changing demands, NFV helps to adapt quickly by scaling services up or down. Virtual network devices, therefore, are often more flexible and agile than traditional hardware-based services.

Another interesting aspect is that NFV is based on virtual appliance standards, so it supports innovation by delivering software-driven services on any industry-standard server hardware. Constant updates keep the virtual machines running and the risk of trying out new functions or deploying innovative services is minimized.


Virtual Routers

Virtual routing was created as a form of NFV, in which the functions of traditional hardware-based network routers or gateways are implemented in software. This piece of software can be run on any standard commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) server with the advantage of reducing costs for hardware and increasing interoperability, rather than requiring a proprietary platform.

This is crucial, for example, for companies with many branch offices distributed across several countries. They benefit from centralized, instant deployment of software-based networking features instead of having to wait until network equipment has been ordered, shipped, installed and configured by the local IT admin. No physical installation in remote branch offices is required, making operations flexible and enabling quicker reactions to changing demands.

A virtual router (or vRouter) is a piece of software that replicates the functionality of hardware-based Internet Protocol (IP) routing, which normally uses dedicated hardware. As virtual routing liberates the IP routing function from specific hardware, routing functions can be more freely moved around a network or data center. Also, they can be dynamically configured, automated or adapted to the needs of the network.

Another highly interesting factor is the constantly growing demand of businesses for cloud-based services that can be added by the click of a mouse – without having to ramp-up or reduce in-house IT resources. Virtual routers are the ideal, secure link between a corporate network and public cloud computing offerings such as Microsoft Azure, preventing data from being compromised or even the loss of sensitive information.


The Best Router Might Not be a Physical One

As described above the virtualization of networking functions is not a new development or trend in the IT world. We at LANCOM have used virtual routing functions for years in our VPN gateways and routers to set up complex VPN scenarios and VLANs.

Based on this experience we have developed our own software-based vRouter to drive forward the virtualization of network functions and enable enterprises to establish high-performance WAN infrastructures in an instant.

The LANCOM vRouter provides the maximum performance of the underlying virtualization platform and can provide up to 1,000 VPN IPsec tunnels along with an encryption performance of more than 3,000 Mbps. This makes the vRouter a highly attractive central-site router/gateway for networks of any scale.

Further, it comes with the very latest security functions for data protection, like IPsec VPN based on IKEv2, elliptic curves, and AES-GCM for IPv4 and IPv6 networks. Our vRouter currently supports Hypervisor VMware ESXi, and other platforms are in preparation.

In addition, it offers a similar range of functions to the hardware routers from LANCOM and is based on our own operating system LCOS (LANCOM Operating System). As a closed-source operating system, it provides all-round protection with a “No Backdoors” guarantee. In terms of configuration and user operation, the vRouter is identical to conventional LANCOM hardware components and seamlessly integrates into existing LANCOM infrastructures.

The LANCOM vRouter implements the virtualization of central network functions (NFV) and operates as a decentralized router or central-site gateway. It also serves as an end point for secure VPN tunnels in public and private cloud applications and of course it can be managed via our LANCOM Management Cloud (LMC) enabling highly automated configuration based on SD-WAN.


Virtual or physical router? It depends on the use case

So if a virtual router is the best one for certain scenarios, why bother to develop and sell hardware? The truth is that both roads lead to Rome. There are still many scenarios where a conventional hardware router is the best if not the only option. For example, in every office where a physical connection to the internet via DSL, cable or fiber is required, classical customer premises equipment (CPE) is still the best choice. It simply depends on the use case.


For more information on our vRouter take a look at our website: https://www.lancom.eu/vrouter

1 Comment

  1. KB
    July 20, 2017    

    Putting data at a server that is easy to access from anywhere but only through properly secure protocols is a lot more adoptable, cost-effective and business-oriented option than keeping a local server active and secure at all the time. The phenomenon is just like how computer technologies progressed to the level of being mobile, and now we cannot live without them. Just like that the network virtualization will grow in the upcoming years.

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