Intent-based networking: Is this the ‘next big thing’?

Traditional networking is on its way out as the growing virtualization and digitization are making it look obsolete. There’s no time to constantly and manually reconfigure the hardware as the enterprise networking goals and expectations change and evolve. However, there is a new solution available that can help deal with that and it is called intent-based networking.

Because it is fairly new, intent-based networking hasn’t gone mainstream yet. However, various vendors including Cisco, Juniper, and VMware have released their own intent-based networking solutions and it is considered the “next big thing” in the networking world. Intent-based networking holds huge and tremendous potential as it takes in challenges every enterprise faces today about networking and their limitations. Networking has long been considered a necessary evil by techies. Traditional networking can hinder the development process and sometimes lead to incidents and issues that have nothing to do with the deliverables themselves. Enterprise network has always been a hurdle in the way of achieving true agility and faster delivery.

What is intent-based networking?

Intent-based networking, or IBN, uses advanced algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and network orchestration to make your enterprise network smarter. Traditional network requires manual intervention by the IT teams every time the network needs to be configured to perform a new task or work toward newer goals and expectations. IT personnel have to manually add configurations to every device connected to the network, which is time-consuming and inefficient. Different vendors have different CLIs for their products, which usually means IT teams have to write separate configurations for them. But with IBN, an intent can automatically be interpreted and applied throughout the network. Businesses just need to add the intent into a GUI, which then gets translated and administered to the network nodes automatically to fulfill the desired task or goal.

An ideal IBN system should work on the following tenants:

  • Translation and validation: An IBN system should translate the intent to configurations and apply them to various nodes connected to the network irrespective of their vendors. These configurations should then be validated by the IBN to ensure the intended result is achieved.
  • Automated implementation: An IBN system should automatically administer changes across the network landscape without any manual intervention.
  • Awareness of the network state: IBN should be able to interpret the always-changing network state in real-time by constantly monitoring it and capturing feedback.
  • Assurance and dynamic optimization/remediation: The system should ensure that the intent is fulfilled at all times and if there is an issue, the configurations should be rectified to meet the goal.

IBN is a powerful tool that can help with wired and wireless devices. Take the example of a chemical plant. The business wants to have a certain number of devices in a particular network segment and configured a certain way. This is extremely hard to do manually. Each device needs to be identified and then configured separately, which consumes time and is inefficient. Now, let’s consider the instance where a chemist took a device out of the designated network segment. There should be a way to keep that device configured and connected to the same segment no matter the location. IBN does just that by helping you create segments to keeping your wireless devices connected even if they are moved. This kind of automation finds its way in several use-cases across several sectors.

Intent-based NetworkingIBN vs. SDN

Intent-based networking is not a new concept. The idea has been around for a long time. Networks have always been managed and controlled to work toward the desired goal. Traditionally, the intents were implemented manually across the network and its devices. However, now with the advancements in AI and machine learning, this process can finally be fully automated. Intent-based networking and software-defined networks are quite similar. The only difference is that where SDN offers a centralized software that allows network operators to monitor and configure the network, IBN helps automate the whole process thereby simplifying it further.

What’s new in intent-based networking?

The intent-based networking market is primed for growth. According to Gartner, by 2020, intent-based networking is supposed to go mainstream with even more vendors coming out with newer, more clever solutions. IoT has been all the rage in the last couple of years. As more and more devices find their way to the enterprise network, there is a surge in the growth of the complexity of the networking landscape. The growing complexity is expected to act as the catalyst for IBN’s way into the mainstream. Handling hundreds of devices manually or even through software individually is not going to cut it. Enterprises need intents to ease network management. Cisco is already streamlining its IBN offering by adding it to its IoT and SDN offering. Clients need to regain control over their networks that have been fleeting away. With the help of intents, Cisco can help clients reduce the complexity, decrease operational cost and time by letting IT and operations teams work together. With intent-based networking, enterprises can usher in efficiency and flexibility. Business needs and expectations can easily be translated into network policies and this simple fact allows intent-based networking to find its way into the medical sector, mining industry, chemical plants, and many more. IBN allows your network to be highly available with almost no downtime while also allowing enterprises to leave space for future innovations.

Multidomain integration for IBN is another stride toward having an efficient networking solution. Cisco understands that businesses need different domains for different purposes. However, this doesn’t mean your network has to be siloed. Intents should be applied across the network irrespective of the domain to truly automate the networking process. Cisco offers a solution that integrates these domains to allow for policies to be applied easily across the entire network while having separate domains taking care of different business needs.

Network performance monitors (NPMs) monitor and analyze the performance of the network to let businesses know if their network is functioning at its optimal performance. As IBNs apply configurations across the network devices, they could use the input from NPMs and apply fixes and patches on lagging devices to help the network function at its peak performance. NPMs and IBN go together quite well and there could be future solutions that make use of both these solutions’ combine strength to allow enterprise networks to reach their highest potential.

Intent-based network: No limits

Intent-based networking is an ambitious solution and it can be a boon to different businesses of varying sizes across several sectors. IBN systems promise to bring a new kind of ease and agility to the previously daunting and often limiting networking solutions. Having network admins and IT personnel on constant beck and call is not efficient or practical. Intent-based networking is the most pragmatic solution that can help you manage your networks today. Enterprises should evaluate their networks and find out their pain points and then look for vendors they trust. Intent-based networks are bound to go mainstream as vendors will come out with more solutions that don’t just boost their hardware but also help integrate hardware by different vendors to provide a more integrated and efficient networking solution.

Featured image: Pixabay

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