VLAN vs. VXLAN: What are the VLAN challenges VXLAN overcomes?

Being a network admin in today's rapidly changing network landscape is a challenging task. It is often easy to confuse new technologies that can potentially simplify even complex network architectures with technologies that are mere band-aid fixes. However Virtual Extensible Local Area Networks (VXLANs), an advanced encapsulation technique, have undoubtedly managed to gather quite a bit of support from the IT community thanks to its effectively simplified approach to enabling network communication.

Here's a look into how VXLANs work and how they help network admins overcome the challenges posed by Virtual LANs (VLANs).

What is a VXLAN and how does it work?

A VXLAN is a tunneling method that acts as overlay technology bridging the layer 2 network to the layer 3 network. This has been offering several advantages for network admins, including enhanced virtualization. VXLANs do this by offering a framework for overlaying virtualized layer 2 over the network's IP transport layer: layer 3.

VXLANs take layer 2 data frames and encapsulates them into UDP packets using the MAC in UDP encapsulation method. These packets are then transferred through the IP layer 3 network.

In datacenters for instance, network devices such as servers can easily communicate with the aid of VXLAN tunnels operating in the IP network layer instead of relying on the physical network layer.

Challenges with using traditional VLAN

VLANs have been helping network admins effectively create virtual networks and logically group virtual devices for years. However the drawbacks in this technology have paved way for its extension: VXLAN. VXLANs help network admins overcome the challenges of VLANs, such as:

Scaling limitations for network segmentation and isolation

Within an IT infrastructure, VLAN network segmentation helps you create silos of separate networking assets based on their functionalities. This offers several benefits, such as implementing appropriate network security for different segments. However, with VLANs, network segmentation is limited.

How does VXLAN solve this problem?

VLANs operate with a 12-bit network identifier. This means that you can only create 4096 administrative domains within your network using VLANs. On the other hand, VXLANs operate with a 24-bit network identifier. With this, you can theoretically create as many as 16 million administrative domains. This allows you to split your network into as many segments as needed, thus simplifying the deployment and scaling of technologies such as cloud and virtualization.

Spanning tree protocols causing network blocking

Traditionally, depending on the VLAN's use of spanning tree protocol is effective, as it helps avoid network loops. This helps in reducing network issues, since network loops can easily shut down an entire network segment. However, as networks scale with multiple complex paths, implementing spanning tree protocols can be quite costly since, in the process of avoiding loops, you could end up blocking several network links that you still have to pay for.

With VXLANs, this problem is eliminated. Since they operate on layer 3, unlike VLANs, they don't rely on spanning tree protocols. Instead, VXLANs use several dynamic routing protocols such as equal cost multi-path routing, which enables network admins to use robust routing protocols that can efficiently manage the traffic in layer 3 while still being cost effective and reliable, ensuring that all network ports are optimally utilized.

Virtualization MACs and switch overload

In the case of VLANs, while it does offer significant advantages for implementing virtualization, it also opens up your network switches to a potential overload. A network switch logs all the connected device's MAC addresses in order to enable network communication between different segments or groups. When a network segment runs virtual devices, their virtual MAC addresses should also be logged in the switch. This can easily result in a switch overload.

Whereas in VXLAN, virtual machines can simply communicate through the logical layer 3 and need not rely on the underlying physical layer 2. This decreases the dependency of network components on the network switches, improving the performance of both virtual machines and the network switches.

Business and networking VXLAN use cases to consider

Aside from overcoming the challenges of using traditional VLANs, VXLANs also offer several networking advantages, including:

  • Enhanced virtualization: VXLANs enable a simplified approach to managing virtual resources, including dynamic virtual server migration. They also offer flexibility to enable multitenancy in data centers and large IT infrastructures.
  • Simplified configuration: With the ability to operate on software-defined networking capabilities, VXLAN enables easier configuration. This significantly reduces the time the network admins need to spend on adding, removing, or modifying existing VXLAN capabilities in their networks.
  • Scalability: VXLAN's 24-bit network identifier offers good scalability for growing networks. It allows network admins to create about 16 million administrative domains for network segmentation and logical isolation.
  • Industry standards: The VXLAN overlay technology is an RFC 7348 industry standard, thereby making it vendor agnostic. This allows network admins to choose the desired VXLAN-enabled device from different vendor options.
  • Cost effectiveness: VXLANs operate on the logical IP layer 3, which significantly reduces the networking demands on layer 2 devices and transport link. This helps network admins cut down on network operations costs and make optimal use of existing networking devices.

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