Networking & The Importance Of VLANs

We have become familiar with the term VLANs when talking about networking. Some people cringe and worry when they hear “VLAN”, while others rejoice and relish the idea. I used to be in the camp that cringed and worried – only because I did not have some basic knowledge about VLANs.

So let’s start with the basics: what is a VLAN? 

VLAN stands for Virtual Local Area Network and has the same characteristics and attributes as a physical Local Area Network (LAN). A VLAN is a separate IP sub-network which allows for multiple networks and subnets to reside on the same switched network – services that are typically provided by routers. A VLAN essentially becomes its own broadcast domain. VLANs can be structured by department, function, or protocol, allowing for a smaller layer of granularity. VLANs are defined on the switch by individual ports; this allows VLANs to be placed on specific ports to restrict access. 

A VLAN cannot communicate directly with another VLAN, which is done by design. If VLANs are required to communicate with one another the use of a router or layer 3 switching is required. VLANs are capable of spanning multiple switches and you can have more than one VLAN on multiple switches. For the most part VLANs are relatively easy to create and manage. Most switches allow for VLAN creation via Telnet and GUI interfaces, which is becoming increasingly popular.

VLAN’s can address many issues such as:

  1. Security – Security is an important function of VLANs. A VLAN will separate data that could be sensitive from the general network.  Thus allowing sensitive or confidential data to traverse the network decreasing the change that users will gain access to data that they are not authorized to see. Example: An HR Dept.’s computers/nodes can be placed in one VLAN and an Accounting Dept.’s can be place in another allowing this traffic to completely separate. This same principle can be applied to protocol such as NFS, CIFS, replication, VMware (vMotion) and management.
  2. Cost – Cost savings can be seen by eliminating the need for additional expensive network equipment. VLANs will also allow the network to work more efficiently and command better use of bandwidth and resources.
  3. Performance – Splitting up a switch into VLANs allows for multiple broadcast domains which reduces unnecessary traffic on the network and increases network performance.
  4. Management: VLANs allow for flexibility with the current infrastructure and for simplified administration of multiple network segments within one switching environment.

VLANs are a great resource and tool to assist in fine tuning your network. Don’t be afraid of VLANs, rather embrace them for the many benefits that they can bring to your infrastructure.

Photo Credit: ivanx