Added protection through virtualization

Network virtualization is the process of combining hardware and software network resources and network functionality into a single, software-based administrative entity, and it is essential that preventive measures be taken to protect the network from potential breaches.

By Frank Williams February 12, 2016

Virtualization allows an information technology (IT) organization to manage updates and changes to the operating system up to and including ignoring them, which can be critical in operational technology (OT) applications, where software runs on obsolete hardware and operating systems and has not undergone an update.

At the same time, this software is critical to operation of the factory or process plant. Virtualization can give this software a longer operating lifecycle time and save costs and intellectual property.

Network virtualization, defined by Gartner, is the process of combining hardware and software network resources and functionality into a single virtual network. This offers access to routing features and data streams that can provide newer, service-aware, resilient solutions; newer security services native within network elements; support for subscriber-aware policy control for peer-to-peer traffic management; and application-aware, real-time session control for converged voice and video applications with guaranteed on-demand bandwidth.

Desktop virtualization separates the logical desktop from the actual hardware. A virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) permits the user to interact with the computer through another host computer or device on a network connection. The computer may be a server, enabling multiple-user sessions at the same time. The latest trend in VDI is hosted virtual desktops (HVDs) where the desktop is an image on a cloud-based server and is managed by a hosting firm that specializes in HVD hosting. 

Virtualizing an entire network

Network virtualization is the process of combining hardware and software network resources and network functionality into a single, software-based administrative entity—a virtual network. Hardware functions, such as switches and network adapters (NICs), firewalls, network appliances, such as load balancers, and network storage devices are all combined into virtual devices instead of hardware. This can provide rapid scalability, as well as additional protection against hardware failure.

Greenfield virtual network

Virtualizing a network is easy with a greenfield network. The network design can be virtual from the beginning, and all the virtual tools needed to manage the network can be incorporated from the very start.

Organizing a virtual network can be relatively easy, and it can increase network efficiency. The network can be designed so local area networks (LANs) are subdivided into virtual networks and virtual LANs (VLANs). This can dramatically improve efficiency and load balancing. Users can also improve security by segmenting the network and establishing role-based and location-based permissions and procedures. Doing this in a virtual environment enables the user to be agile about changing the network architecture as needed to cope with changing and increasing network loading and demand.

When it comes to network virtualization, the software-defined network- (SDN) enabled approach allows the network administrators and owners to integrate physical and virtual environments. While this technology has been around for years, it has only recently accelerated its adoption rate and is showing up in more network strategies.

Wireless networks and sensor networks that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT) are candidates for virtualization, and this can easily occur by first segmenting the network and then using virtual NICs and other virtual devices, such as edge firewalls, as well as virtualized I/O to provide agile network connectivity.

Virtualizing brownfield networks

It is not as easy to virtualize an already existing, or brownfield, network as it is to start from scratch with a completely virtualized network.

In the first place, there is a working network, and changing its topology or replacing components has to happen when the network is down—it is rare when a working network is down.

What has to happen is the virtualization architecture has to be designed, the virtual network components have to be constructed and tested alongside the nonvirtual network you are replacing or revising, and then a hot cut over must occur, making sure all of the features and functions of the original network segment are preserved.

One of the techniques often used is to make a virtual overlay above the brownfield hardware and firmware network. New functionality is done in the overlay, while the main network traffic continues in the brownfield network. As each segment of the network requires replacement, it can be left as a hardware network, or it can be virtualized, depending on cost and availability. The important thing is to keep the availability of the network as close to 100% as possible.

Frank Williams is the chief executive at Statseeker, a provider of network monitoring technology. This content originally appeared on ISSSource is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,

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