When should I use a Private IP vs. VLAN vs. VPC?

When should I use a Private IP vs. VLAN vs. VPC?

When you build applications in the cloud, you could argue that the most important thing is security, especially when you’re using a third-party cloud provider and you don’t have access to every part of the backend. But, this can be a challenge because there are so many ways to secure your application. There's such a vast majority of tools and resources available to developers for security, that it can be hard to digest and choose what you need. It’s like being in a candy store with an unlimited credit card! Seriously, it's overwhelming. You've got IAM stuff, encryption, networking things—where do you even start? And just when you think you've got a handle on things, bam, new tools pop up!

So, here's my take: focus on what matters most - the fundamentals: Private IP, VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks), and VPCs (Virtual Private Clouds). These three foundational, fundamental concepts form the backbone of modern network isolation, and understanding their nuances is crucial. Let’s go through these in a bit more detail based on my experiences.

Private IPs

The last time I used a private IP was when I was setting up my home network. I had to configure routers and assign private IP addresses to various devices. It felt empowering to establish a secure digital ecosystem where my devices could interact away from the prying eyes of the public internet. Private IP addresses are like the secret passageways of the internet. They're the unique identifiers assigned to devices within a private network, allowing them to communicate with each other securely.

However, as my networking endeavors expanded, I encountered the limitations of Private IP addresses. These are the standard 10.x.x.x, 172.x.x.x, and 192.168.x.x you'll use in home and enterprise-grade network gear. They provide no additional privacy aside from not being directly accessible from the public internet. While they were great for local communication, they couldn't provide the isolation and segmentation required for larger networks.


VLANs are a way to segment a physical network into multiple isolated virtual networks, each with its own set of devices and communication rules. I vividly remember a demo project I helped architect when I was in college. The assignment was to architect how the university’s network would be segmented among faculty, students, and administrators who are all clamoring for network bandwidth and resources. We were tasked with revamping the university's network infrastructure to improve performance, security, and manageability. VLANs were our secret weapon. We segmented the physical network into distinct virtual networks tailored to each group—students, faculty, and admin.

Setting up VLANs felt like drawing boundaries on a map, defining territories where each group could roam freely without stepping on each other's toes. Students had their own VLAN for gaming marathons and late-night study sessions. Faculty members enjoyed a secluded space for research collaborations and lecture streaming. And administrative staff? Well, they had their own VIP section for handling sensitive data and administrative tasks.

But VLANs did more than just divide the network into neat little parcels. They gave us granular control over access rights and traffic prioritization. Students couldn't waltz into faculty-exclusive areas, and admin data remained off-limits to everyone but authorized personnel. Plus, by segregating traffic, we reduced congestion and improved network performance for everyone.

And here's the best part: we achieved all of this without ripping up a single Ethernet cable. No need for costly infrastructure changes or disruptive downtime. VLANs worked their magic purely at the software level, redefining network boundaries on the fly. (VLAN is layer 2 on the OSI model)

Looking back, that project taught me the power of VLANs to revolutionize network architecture. They're not just about dividing networks; they're about empowering organizations to tailor their networks to fit their unique needs. Whether it's a university campus or a corporate headquarters, VLANs offer a versatile solution for optimizing performance, enhancing security, and streamlining network management.


Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate testing/staging environments. They can be so problematic. No one cares if your features are working in staging, we care if they work in production. And the only way to know if a feature is working in production is to test it in production. I even went so far as to write a breakup letter to staging. However, many companies still use many environments when building and deploying applications. If your company is one of those companies that doesn’t want to test in production, or you don’t have enough automation in place to do so, then you should consider using a VPC to create isolated environments for development, testing, and production.

By creating separate VPCs for each environment, you establish clear boundaries between development, testing, and production. This isolation prevents interference and minimizes the risk of unintended consequences. What happens in the development environment stays in the development environment, reducing the likelihood of bugs or changes impacting critical production systems. VPC segmentation also allows for precise resource allocation and management across environments. Each environment can have its own dedicated resources, such as compute instances, storage, and networking resources. This ensures that development and testing activities don't compete with production workloads for resources, optimizing performance and stability.

To Sum Up

Security tools and technologies have evolved and will continue to evolve. From the simplicity of private IP addresses to the complexity of cloud-based VPCs, each step has broadened my understanding of network design and administration. So whether you're building a home network, managing a corporate infrastructure, or separating development environments, understanding the nuances of Private IP, VLANs, and VPCs is essential. These technologies form the building blocks of modern networking, empowering us to create secure, scalable, and efficient digital ecosystems.

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