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Intent-Based Networking: 7 Things to Know

  • With intent-based networking (IBN), administrators can pre-program IBN-capable networks with policies for data flows. IBN systems then use artificial intelligence (AI)  to learn about the network and implement the policies on those flows. When the system detects that data flows have veered outside of policy, automation kicks in to steer the flow back into compliance.

    These capabilities make intent-based networking a drastic departure from how networks operate today. Legacy networking gets deep into the weeds of routing protocols, spanning-tree topologies and various software and hardware-based mechanisms in order to provide low-latency connectivity and quality of service (QoS). With intent-based networking, administrators are largely shielded from the "how"  data gets from point A to point B quickly, securely, and reliably. Instead, it focuses on the "what" and the "why."

    Ultimately, this means that network engineers will have to dig much deeper to understand applications and data and their importance to business goals. They will need to create policies for critical applications that put controls on data transport. The policies will identify these critical data flows and tell the AI portion of IBN how to keep certain data flows moving at the expense of others.

    IBN is a new and evolving networking technology. Companies including Apstra, Cisco, and Juniper are betting that it's the next evolutionary step for enterprises. On the following pages, l explain basic IBN concepts, describe some of the benefits, and provide a reality check for this emerging trend.

    (Image: Yurchanka Siarhei/Shutterstock)

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  • IBN is not a proprietary technology

    Since Cisco made a big splash last June with its intent-based networking initiative, some may wrongly assume IBN is an exclusive technology created by a single vendor. In fact, IBN should be thought of as a networking concept that can be achieved in any number of ways using various types of hardware and machine-learning algorithms. While networking vendors will obviously dictate how their products utilize the IBN philosophy, there is no right or wrong way to achieving intent-based goals in your network. Therefore, it’s up to you to research different IBN options and choose the one that makes the most sense based on business goals.

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  • The goal is simplicity

    Many regard IBN as an evolutionary step of software defined networking. SDN and IBN share many similarities when it comes to end-to-end visibility and automation features. Yet, for many enterprises, SDN was simply too complex to implement. IBN is seeking to dramatically reduce this complexity by abstracting many of the underlying configuration and AI inner workings to reduce implementation and ongoing administration intricacies that caused SDN projects to fail.

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  • IBN is where AI and automation truly converge in the network

    For years, network administrators have been utilizing automation scripts on their network to simplify tasks such as routine adds/changes and troubleshooting. The problem was, however, that automation still requires a lot of time to create and maintain. IBN aims to leverage advanced artificial intelligence and network APIs to build and manage automation policy for you. All you need to do is build the operational thresholds and define traffic types. AI then learns the network topology and builds and manages its own automation scripts to keep traffic flowing within the boundaries you set.

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  • Focus on business “intent”

    One of the key steps for building an IBN is to pre-program the network AI with an understanding of what data the business considers important. This is the “intent” portion of IBN. Essentially, the network must be taught what apps, data, and users are considered vital to the business, so it can prioritize this traffic over all others using advanced AI and automation.

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  • Proactive monitoring with predictive automation

    One key benefit of a fully-deployed IBN is the fact that the AI can proactively monitor the performance of your network and automate traffic flow changes based on predictions it calculates. For example, if the network identifies that a link is becoming abnormally congested, it can proactively make routing changes for critical traffic when the pipe reaches 90% capacity. This eliminates any latency or dropped packets from an end-user perspective.

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  • You can’t get there overnight

    Much like with SDN, IBN requires extensive hardware and software upgrades from end to end. Thus, an IBN strategy should be considered a long-term strategy. Many network vendors are beginning to sell routers and switches that are IBN capable, yet can also be configured, deployed, and managed in a legacy manner. Thus, it allows administrators to prepare their network for IBN without requiring major forklift upgrades.

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  • IBN will likely start in the WAN

    Similar to how organizations began implementing SDN capabilities in the WAN, it’s also the most logical spot to start an IBN deployment. The WAN provides the optimal location to take advantage of AI and automation practices and squeeze the most out of expensive long-haul connections to remote sites. This technology can also be used to enhance and speed up the troubleshooting process. Thus, if you start down the path of IBN, the biggest bang for your buck will be in the WAN.

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