software-defined networking (SDN) Network virtualization benefits in the LAN, WAN and data center

5 network virtualization challenges and how to solve them

The challenges of network virtualization include an overhaul of network architecture, thorough staff training and breaking down knowledge silos among IT departments.

When enterprises implement network virtualization inside their corporate infrastructure, they undoubtedly could benefit from improved performance, flexibility, scalability and security enhancements. That said, however, organizations still need to overcome some network virtualization challenges in order to get it right.

Interestingly, the network virtualization challenges that IT teams will face are both technical and nontechnical in nature. Let's explore five common challenges and provide guidance on how best to overcome them.

1. Drastic changes to network architecture

From a technical sense, the first major obstacle to overcome is the arduous task of migrating from an architecture that relies heavily on physical network appliances, such as routers, switches and firewalls. Instead, those services are decoupled from traditional hardware and placed onto hypervisors that virtualize these processes. These virtualized network services are then pooled, scaled up or down, and shifted about as needed.

While all this sounds great, migrating existing LANs and data centers to a virtualized platform takes a tremendous amount of forethought. This migration includes the following tasks:

  • Calculate the proper amount of CPU, compute and storage resources that will be consumed when operating virtualized network services.
  • Find the best way to integrate network resiliency and security services.
  • Determine how the virtualized services will be rolled out in various phases so business operations are not disrupted.

The key to a successful migration is careful planning by architects who know what the business needs from their network. This includes a complete audit of existing applications and services, along with a clear understanding of how data should flow most efficiently through the enterprise.

Additionally, an incremental approach to a migration is often the best option. In this case, IT teams can adjust the virtualization platform without affecting the entire corporate network.

2. Acquiring new skills for IT staff

With network virtualization, IT staff may encounter a learning curve as they acquire new skills. The use of software to abstract and overlay services across an infrastructure is a far cry from when physical network appliances ruled the day. Thus, networking staff need to be properly educated on how to approach the deployment and ongoing operational maintenance of a network virtualization platform.

Common tasks that networking operations (NetOps) staff will likely oversee include basic steps, such as virtual LAN creation and access control. More complicated tasks include scaling out network virtualization services using encapsulation that extends LAN segments across data centers and clouds. Additionally, staff should develop skills in network security tool virtualization to distribute network services closer to applications and end users for performance benefits.

Usually, the best way to train networking staff on virtualization is to have them work with third-party consultants who have expertise in this field. If in-house admins are part of the architecture and deployment phase of the migration process, they can discern why the network was configured in such a way. This enables NetOps staff to have a better understanding of how the network was built to function when managing and troubleshooting their new virtual network.

3. Network visibility

Network virtualization can significantly increase the number of logical technology layers that must work together. This creates a situation where legacy network and data center monitoring tools lose visibility into some of these abstracted layers. In other cases, visibility can be achieved, but the tools struggle to display the information properly so that it makes sense to network operators.

In either case, the decision to deploy and manage modern network visibility tools is usually the best option. This ensures that NetOps staff are alerted to the precise service layer when a problem occurs.

4. Knowledge silos

Perhaps the biggest cultural shift that must occur to achieve network virtualization success is to eliminate the many knowledge and skill silos within IT departments. This includes siloed teams that traditionally focus on a single IT discipline, such as networking, cybersecurity or server management. Because these three fields now coexist and overlap in many areas, it's important to open lines of communication and cross-train staff on various tasks and responsibilities.

One way to increase the likelihood of tearing down knowledge silos is to consolidate the management of these teams into a single group. Thus, the oversight of these teams is now managed by a single source of control for moves, adds and changes, as well as budgets. This helps to ensure that everyone in the consolidated team is aware of what others are doing.

5. Automation and AI

One key aspect of network virtualization is the increased amount of automation and self-service processes that can be baked into a platform. While these tasks can significantly improve the speed of network changes while reducing management overhead, it requires a new set of standards and processes to be documented and put in place.

Understand that previous network architectures were designed and built on a hop-by-hop basis using physical hardware appliances. With a virtualized network, however, the entire network now uses a centralized control plane to control and push policy to all parts of the network. In this regard, changes can happen more rapidly but require multiple components to be coordinated to perform their duties in unison.

Thus, it's best that network teams shift their focus away from network tasks that are now automated. Instead, their new role is to ensure the underlying automation processes and AI are aligned with each other in order to fulfill those automated tasks.

Next Steps

Carrier network virtualization leads to enterprise services

How zero trust unifies network virtualization

How network virtualization works

How enterprise networks use WAN virtualization

Dig Deeper on Network infrastructure

Unified Communications
Mobile Computing
Data Center