As networks move from a more traditional device-by-device management paradigm to one that is more driven by automation and orchestration, and further to one that is highly intent-focused, the way network interactions are performed is changing. This kind of intent-based networking holds great promise in terms of quicker, more scalable delivery, more reliable network interactions, and more time spent on higher-value network designs and business integrations.
What do these changes mean for network professionals? How can they arm themselves with the right mix of skills needed to harness the power of intent-based networking? Enhanced skills enable greater speed, agility, less risk, and more business value.
Good networking intent(ions)
In intent-based networking, a network administrator programs the network with business intent for the network: the data, apps, and users that have the highest priority for the business. The software-defined networking (SDN) controller, the application responsible for intelligent management of the network, will then implement policies and prioritize traffic accordingly. This represents a dramatically different way of building and managing networks.
One of an organization’s most valuable assets is its network infrastructure. Intent-based networking treats every network device — be it wired, wireless, or wide-area — as part of a unified fabric, giving IT a simpler, more cost-effective way to take control of that infrastructure.
In addition, this model allows network operators to be responsive to both security threats and business needs at machine speed, across their entire network. This means that they don’t have to rely on time-consuming, human-powered workflows, making changes one network device at a time. Instead, they can interact with the network as a single fabric. And when there’s an issue with the network (such as a cyber-attack), the network can react to it in real time.
Intent-based networking offers clear business benefits in three main areas:
- Reduced risk: Improved network visibility, analytics, and automation result in faster threat detection and containment, continuous compliance, and reduced downtime.
- Agility and speed: The network can rapidly respond to an organization’s needs with little manual intervention.
- Business value: Because network maintenance requires less time and effort, there is more time for IT innovations that provide real value to the business.
Taken together, these benefits of an intent-based network close the gap between business and IT. Such a network captures business intent and continuously aligns the end-to-end network with that intent. Intent can apply to application service levels, security policies, compliance, operational processes, and other business needs.
When intent-based networking becomes commonplace, Gartner predicts it will completely change the way network administrators work, removing repetitious and tedious configuration tasks and moving admins from a reactive to a proactive approach.
New skills for a new model
Intent-based networking employs a pairing of software-defined networking with analytics powered by machine learning. So, it’s especially important that organizations are equipped with trained network engineers to design and deploy automation and orchestration in SDN environments. Network engineers will need 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 and learn more about virtualization, analytics, and security.
In intent-based networking, it’s an essential task to apply business priorities to the network. It’s also important, then, that IT professionals understand the relationship between technology and business. It’s crucial that organizations cultivate these skills too, through training and certifications.
Driving business goals
The era of automation and orchestration is upon us, and the network is no exception. This emphasis on speed and agility has led to the advent of the intent-based network, an infrastructure of a higher order that is powered by software and enables the network to learn, adapt, and evolve. It’s an exciting time, but a time that must be navigated wisely lest organizations quickly fall behind. This new model requires new skills, and organizations that want to stay ahead of the curve will empower their network professionals with the training they need. These pros will offer more value than ever as they gain both technical skills and business acumen to drive the network’s intent. It is these employees who will drive a more available and secure network toward the organization’s goals.
Joe Clarke is a distinguished services engineer at Cisco Systems and has been an integral part of the Cisco engineering team for 20 years. Joe holds a CCIE and is a champion of network programmability and automation. He is a contributor to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and a regular speaker at Cisco Live.