For increasing numbers of applications, it is possible to replace IT hardware with virtualization. Some manufacturers are already engaging in virtualized solutions themselves. Virtualization can help companies avoid additional expenditure and to implement state-of-the-art functions in their network quickly and easily – without the inconvenience of replacing hardware. In this article, we highlight the functions, possibilities and risks involved in virtualization.
So what’s virtualization, anyway?
In networks, we’re used to having to buy a new piece of hardware for each function. This approach hasn’t been made obsolete by virtualization because, in some cases, higher hardware capacities are needed just to be able to use new functions.
Virtualization outsources entire network components to a virtual machine, which uses its computing power to take on the function of the component. So a virtual machine could run on a server, for example, or even in the cloud. Depending on how much computing power is available and the demand on the capacity of the relevant components, one virtual machine may well be able to replace multiple network devices.
Implementing virtualization – where it works and where it doesn’t
Some network functions cannot be virtualized due to the hardware they need. For example, switches need enough ports, interfaces and computing power to fulfil their purpose. In contrast, other functions such as firewalls, load balancers, Wi-Fi controllers etc. are bit more dynamic. In many cases, although they require computing power, they don’t always need purpose-specific hardware.
This is exactly where virtualization comes in: currently, most available solutions run on a server via one of the leading virtualization platforms: KVM or VMware. Thanks to developments in cloud computing, in recent years, cloud virtualization has also become an option. This manages without any local hardware at all.
In some cases, several manufacturers also offer proprietary solutions to virtualize dynamic network functions. These are usually closely integrated with other products.
What advantages does virtualization offer?
Replacing hardware with software – is that really a good idea? It depends on the application!
By substituting hardware for software, manufacturers can roll out new features much more extensively, and without hardware limitations. So virtualized hardware blurs the boundaries between software and hardware even further. This makes it easy to respond rapidly to external influences and keep the network permanently up-to-date – without having to constantly swap hardware and deal with all the hassle that involves. It enables security vulnerabilities to be dealt with quickly and efficiently, while performance is optimized continuously.
What’s more, as the network functions are running on virtual platforms, they are usually very easy to scale. So, the capacity of the virtualized network functions can be increased or scaled back, depending on requirements. New clients can be integrated into the network while conserving resources – and while retaining the same level of security.
In particular, when used in conjunction with cloud computing, the advantage of virtualization quickly becomes clear: a complete absence of hardware on-site. This doesn’t just save space, but costs for the company and the environment too – especially when multiple network functions can be transferred to one virtual machine.
But what happens when things don’t run as smoothly as they should?
Even virtualized network components can fail. In fact, the number of potential risks increases with virtualization – even if these do only occur very rarely. For example, software compatibility and stability problems may arise, the virtual machine might crash or be attacked at various points through a security vulnerability.
Due to the nature of centralized components, in the worst case, the entire network may go down – unless of course the necessary redundancies have been installed in advance. So it’s important that networks with virtualized components are not just cobbled together. The use of non-physical components in a network must be carefully planned.
For some individual applications where, for example, an increased level of information security is required, it might make more sense to avoid using virtualization in certain areas – or even to remove it. Especially if the network has ISO/IEC-certified data security, it is essential to consult security experts in advance and, with their help, plan the virtualization down to the last detail.
Virtualization: the bottom line
Virtualization is an advanced approach to resource utilization in IT. Depending on the application – in the cloud, wireless networks or in a variety of other network constellations – it can reduce the burden on IT infrastructure and be profitable for corporate locations.
However, in each case it must be planned individually in advance. Which components should be considered for virtualization? How should the redundancies and capacities in the network be structured? How can functions be restored or circumvented in an emergency?
Come and talk to us about virtualization – we’d be happy to provide detailed advice on virtualizing your components and everything this involves.