Why You Should Pay Attention to Intention-Based Networking

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Intent-based Networking
(Image: Pixabay)

If you're not yet familiar with intent-based networking (IBN), you soon will be.

Although software-defined networks (SDNs) now automate most network management processes, a growing number of organizations are coming to the realization that they need even more capabilities to ensure that their networks are operating as intended. IBN technology helps users by quickly identify lurking network problems via a series of rich insights and then troubleshoots and remediates the issues. Meanwhile, IBN's powerful security and policy capabilities provide simplified segmentation, consistent policy deployment and an ability to detect threats hidden in encrypted traffic.

Traditional methods for defining, provisioning, monitoring and securing networks to meet service level agreements are failing to keep pace with ongoing digital disruption, noted Andrew Wertkin, CTO of BlueCat, a network technology firm. "The change rate on networks continues to accelerate, and the landscape continues to grow in complexity with network virtualization, hyper-converged infrastructures and the continued growth of devices demanding network resources," he said.

As enterprise networks grow larger and more diverse, network operation is becoming increasingly challenging. Managers need networking software that helps them plan, design and operate their networks more efficiently and with less downtime, while maintaining security, explained Natale Ruello, director of product at Forward Networks, a network verification platform provider. "Intent-based networking helps businesses mitigate the massive risks inherent in running complex, multi-vendor networks," he added.

IBN simplifies complex networks by allowing operations personnel to work at a higher level and specify exactly what needs to be done, said Kireeti Kompella, Juniper Networks’ CTO, engineering. "IBN and automation are the only feasible approaches to scaling for future network technologies, in particular, IoT and multicloud."

Multiple benefits

Intent-based networking allows network administrators to set policies for the desired state of the network and then use automation to ensure those policies are implemented, explained John Smith CTO of LiveAction, a network performance software provider. "This makes it easier to translate business requirements into what you want the network to do, rather than having to use network-level commands, for example."

IBN provides more direct mapping of what you want done by setting and implementing policies, Smith noted. "It also allows network administrators to compare the results of how the network performs against intent," he said. "IBN implies automation, so all the benefits of automation to program the network also apply to IBN, such as easier network management and configuration."

IBN improves network reliability and helps network operators sleep better at night, Ruello observed. "Organizations have a better understanding of their networks—whether or not they are behaving as intended—and how to remediate any issues," he said. "Without the right tools, many questions are simply not answered, leaving operators blind to potential problems in their network or working long weekends hunting down the needles in their haystacks."

Enterprises and telecommunications service providers that use IBM generally save time, money and resources. "It costs more money to maintain, monitor and operate an existing network than it does to initially buy and install the networking equipment," Kompella reported. "By implementing a network that encompasses all of the advantages provided by automation, companies can redeploy their resources to focus on other tasks that provide a higher RoI."

Moving forward

The first step toward IBN adoption should be to deploy a system that can verify current network behavior and ensure that's aligned with intent, Ruello advised. "One key thing to note [is that] IBN adoption does not mean greenfield all the time," he said. "Existing networks can benefit from IBN by deploying, for instance, a network verification platform to make sure network behavior and intent are correct."

IBN adoption represents something far more than a technology transformation, Wertkin noted. "It also affects [the] organization, skillsets, operations, compliance/governance, and existing service level agreements," he observed. "One recommendation we have is for organizations to assess their readiness in these areas."

As with all transformative technologies—especially those impacting critical infrastructure, such as core networking—Wertkin suggested starting in the lab, working with key vendors and then transitioning IBN to less critical networks in the user domain, such as guest networks. "Vendors can allow the market to get ahead of product and it is key to understand the actual capabilities as opposed to the PowerPoint promises," he said.

Final thoughts

"Often, we technologists forget that architectures are only meaningful if they fulfill requirements," Wertkin observed. He added that it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand network requirements, given how rapidly business needs change. "We should design and architect infrastructure to enable rapid change, and there is a great deal of promise with IBN."

"We expect this space to heat up as more people learn about and experience the benefits," Ruello predicted.