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Network virtualization allows many networks to share the same underlying physical topology; this technology has offered promise both for experimentation and for hosting multiple networks on a single shared physical infrastructure. Much attention has focused on virtualizing the network control plane, but, ultimately, a limiting factor in the deployment of these virtual networks is data-plane performance: Virtual networks must ultimately forward packets at rates that are comparable to native, hardware-based approaches. Aside from proprietary solutions from vendors, hardware support for virtualized data planes is limited. The advent of open, programmable network hardware promises flexibility, speed, and resource isolation, but, unfortunately, hardware does not naturally lend itself to virtualization.
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