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Anetwork overlay is a software-enabled logical topology that is decoupled from the physical wired network. It’s built using technologies such as virtualization, cloud, NFV, and SDN, and works in conjunction with a physical network such as an Ethernet fabric. One physical network can support multiple network overlays.

An overlay network is central to the open, software-driven, programmable architecture commonly referred to as the New IP. It allows administrators to quickly, easily, and cost-effectively create and manage secure, independent logical networks, which can be customized to the needs of an individual user community. To understand the value potential of a network overlay, let’s take a look at how service providers are taking advantage of this technology.

Service provider benefits

The ability to serve a growing number of customers without costly infrastructure upgrades is a key concern in the service provider world. Network overlays allow service providers to run a multi-tenant environment, in which each customer has a secure, private, personalized network. And the number of overlays supported on a physical network infrastructure can be massively and cost-effectively scaled to match increasing business requirements. This scalability is an important differentiator between network overlay and virtual LAN (vLAN) technologies.

While vLANs provide a similar capability to create private networks, their ability to scale is limited by the physical network capacity. Once that capacity is reached, the service provider must create a new network and add that capacity through a routed topology, rather than natively. This approach is feasible, but is less flexible and more expensive, difficult to operate, and more prone to error than overlay technology.

To contrast the vLAN approach with multi-tenancy, the same physical infrastructure that supports thousands of vLANs can support millions of overlay networks. This is the type of scale that large service providers need. It gives them greater flexibility at a lower cost, so they can better and more profitably serve their customers.

In addition to multi-tenancy support and scalability advantages, network overlays support service function chains that simplify traffic management. Service function chains are based on NFV technology, which is central to the New IP and can benefit any organization with a virtualized network. For example, a service function chain might be designed to direct traffic between specific endpoints to flow through a firewall. Overlay technology provides a mechanism for building service function chains.

Brocade overlay support

The centerpiece of our support for overlay networks is the Brocade SDN Controller. The Brocade SDN Controller is a quality-assured edition of the OpenDaylight controller, which is the industry’s leading open source SDN controller. It incorporates network virtual authority (NVA) functionality that allows it to construct overlay topologies for multi-tenancy and service function chaining. Our network overlay product suite also includes virtualized products for routing, load balancing, application delivery, and visibility and analytics.

Whether you are a service provider implementing multi-tenancy and looking for massive scalability potential, or an enterprise implementing a phased evolution to the New IP to increase business efficiency and reduce costs, a network overlay is in your future.