Performs stateless forwarding/transformation of packets based on tables populated by the control plane and reports topology information to the control plane, and maintains packet level statistics.

The data plane is the source of truth for the physical topology and status for example, VIF location, tunnel status, and so on. If you are dealing with moving packets from one place to another, you are in the data plane. The data plane also maintains status of and handles failover between multiple links/tunnels. Per-packet performance is paramount with very strict latency or jitter requirements. Data plane is not necessarily fully contained in kernel, drivers, userspace, or even specific userspace processes. Data plane is constrained to totally stateless forwarding based on tables/rules populated by control plane.

The data plane also may have components that maintain some amount of state for features such as TCP termination. This is different from the control plane managed state such as MAC:IP tunnel mappings, because the state managed by the control plane is about how to forward the packets, whereas state managed by the data plane is limited to how to manipulate payload.