There's always a “next big thing” in networking … Five years ago, it was Ethernet Fabrics in the data center, then came SDN, and currently it is SD-WAN. As SD-WAN adoption flows and shifts from boring to leading edge, the next big thing on the networking horizon promises to be Intent-based Networking. Whether you've heard about the concept of “intent-based networking” or not, the approach is one we will unduly be listening a lot more in the coming months and years. More than just a specific technology it's the holy grail of networking. A drastically new approach that enables the network to continuously align itself to the disparate demands of the organization. It brings together all the latest networking innovations including SDN, virtualization, machine learning, model-based APIs, and many securities related innovations into a closed loop system capable of identifying, predicting, and responding to business needs. Intent-based networking system incorporates these four key things:
Translation and Validation – The system takes a higher-level business policy (what) as input from end users and converts it to the necessary network configuration (how). The system then generates and validates the resulting design and configuration for correctness.
Automated Implementation – The system can configure the appropriate network changes (how) across existing network infrastructure. This is typically done via network automation and / or network orchestration.
Awareness of Network State – The system ingests real-time network status for systems under its administrative control, and is protocol- and transport-agnostic.
Assurance and Dynamic Optimization / Remediation- The system continuously validates (in real time) that the original business intent of the system is being met, and can take corrective actions (such as blocking traffic, modifying network capacity or notifying) when desired intent is not met.
What are the benefits?
Intent-based networking promises to bring many benefits to organizations of all sizes. All IT administrators want better access control, massive scalability, security and multi-vendor device management and the most compelling-the ability to manage hundreds to thousands of heterogeneous devices on a network as an aggregate, and do so with speed, automation and simplicity.
Is intent-based networking a rehash of software defined networking?
Software defined networking or SDN is a series of network objects (switches, routers, firewalls) all deployed in a highly-automated manner. Intent-based networking leverages the capabilities of SDN but marries it to intelligence.
What are the risks involved?
Intent based networking requires a fair amount of re-skilling and process change that is not without their own risks. Additionally, as with every major technology transition, there are technology and process risks associated with implementation. You will need to carefully plan your migration, so that you can quickly reap the rewards without affecting existing service levels.
Intent-based networking is nascent, but could be the next big thing in networking, as it promises to improve network availability and agility, which are key as organizations transition to digital business. I & O leaders responsible for networking need to determine if and when to pilot this technology.