By Richard ArnesonYou may or may not have heard of it, but if you fall into the latter, it won’t be long until you do―probably a lot. Network management has always been associated with several words, none of them very appealing to IT professionals: manual, time-consuming and tedious. An evolution is taking place to take those three (3) elements out of network management―Intent-Based Networking, or IBN.
It’s softwareSome suggest that intent-based networking isn’t a product, but a concept or philosophy. Opinions aside, its nomenclature is confusing because “intent-based networking” doesn’t include an integral word―software. Intent-based networking removes manual, error-prone network management and replaces it with automated processes that are guided by network intelligence, machine learning and integrated security. According to several studies regarding network management, it’s estimated that anywhere from 75% to 83% of network changes are currently conducted via CLI’s (Command Line Interfaces). What this ultimately means is that CLI-driven network changes, which are made manually, are prone to mistakes, the number of which depends on the user making the changes. And resultant network downtime from those errors means headaches, angry users and, worst of all, a loss of revenue. And if revenue generation is directly dependent on the network being up, millions of dollars will be lost, even if the network is down for a short period of time.
How does IBN work?In the case of intent-based networking, the word intent simply means what the network “intends” to accomplish. It enables users to configure how, exactly, they intend the network to behave by applying policies that, through the use of automation and machine learning, can be pushed out to the entire infrastructure.
Wait a minute, IBN sounds like SDNIf you’re thinking this, you’re not the only one. They sound very similar, what with the ease of network management, central policy setting, use of automation, cost savings and agility. And to take that a step further, IBN can use SDN controllers and even augment SDN deployments. The main difference, however, lies in the fact that IBN is concerned more with building and operating networks that satisfy intent, rather than SDN’s focus on virtualization (creating a single, virtual network by combining hardware and software resources and functionality).
IBN―Interested in What is needed?IBN first understands what the network is intended to accomplish, then calculates exactly how to do it. With apologies to SDN, IBN is simply smarter and more sophisticated. If it sounds like IBN is the next evolution of SDN, you’re right. While the degree or level of evolution might be widely argued, it would take Clarence Darrow to make a good case against evolution altogether. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony in this statement.)
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine LearningThrough advancements in AI and algorithms used in machine learning, IBN enables network administrators to define a desired state of the network (intent), then rely on the software to implement infrastructure changes, configurations and security policies that will satisfy that intent.
Elements of IBNAccording to Gartner, there are four (4) elements that define intent-based networking. And if they seem a lot like SDN, you’re right again. Basically, it’s only the first element that really distinguishes IBN from SDN.
- Translation and Validation– The end user inputs what is needed, the network configures how it will be accomplished, and validates whether the design and related configurations will work.
- Automated Implementation– Through network automation and/or orchestration, the appropriate network can be configured across the entire infrastructure.
- Awareness of Network State– The network is monitored in real-time, and is both protocol- and vendor-agnostic.
- Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation– Continuous, real-time validation of the network is taken, and corrective action can be administered, such as blocking traffic, modifying network capacity, or notifying network administrators that the intent isn’t being met.