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Is fabric necessary for network virtualization overlay?

A fabric topology may become necessary at some point, but for now, you can get away without one for your SDN overlay.

Is it an absolute requirement? No. Do you need a beefy fabric architecture for it to run efficiently? Probably...

yes, at some point -- especially at scale -- but it's perfectly feasible to deploy a network virtualization overlay on relatively conventional Ethernet switches without any fancy VXLAN tunneling features. For organizations with small or geographically dispersed requirements, you can still use a local network virtualization overlay without having to spend a lot of money on infrastructure just to get the thing operational.

SDN-type deployments are usually going to create a lot of east-west traffic as virtual devices and functions can be moved around the physical architecture at will or on demand. This will likely increase the demands on your infrastructure, and, depending on where you are in the project cycle, you may want to think about upgrading some parts of your network. While leaf-spine architecture is generally the gold standard in this context, it's not a requirement; and other fabric types would work (Juniper Networks' QFabric, for one). Many organizations would probably start a network virtualization overlay project with what they have, especially as switch refresh cycles are very long.

Next Steps

Tunneling to boost multi-tenancy

SDN and network virtualization work together

Overlays and the future of networking

This was last published in January 2016

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