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What is intent-based networking (IBN)?

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Intent-based networking (IBN) is an emerging technology concept that aims to apply a deeper level of intelligence and intended state insights to networking. Ideally, these insights replace the manual processes of configuring networks and reacting to network issues. Simply put, administrators can send a request to tell the network what outcome they want (their intent) instead of needing to code and execute individual tasks manually.

What is the purpose of intent-based networking?

Intent-based networking companies range from start-ups to established networking vendors and all offer slightly different options. But the goal is networking that uses machine learning and cognitive computing to enable more automation and less time spent on manual configuration and management. They provide software that can translate intent to network configuration. With intent-based networking, network administrators define an outcome or business objective—the intent—and the network’s software figures out how to achieve that goal, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Intent-based networking systems not only automate time-consuming tasks and provide real-time visibility into a network’s activity to validate a given intent, they also predict potential deviations to that intent, and prescribe the action required to ensure that intent. This greater intelligence makes the network faster and more agile and reduces errors. This ability to self monitor and self correct is a core component of intent-based networking.

How does intent-based networking work?

Intent-based networking relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning to prescribe and perform routine tasks, set policies, respond to system events, and verify that goals and actions have been achieved. For example, it can make servers reachable from specific networks, if that is what’s required to achieve a given intent. The system not only configures network changes but also verifies that they are being performed, and it can make adjustments as necessary. Considered an evolution of software-defined networking (SDN), intent-based networking builds upon that technology to enable a higher level of intelligence that can define what tasks are to be automated.

What is the relationship between intent-based networking and SDN?

When considering intent-based networking versus SDN, it’s helpful to think of intent-based networking as a form of software-defined networking with additional capabilities. Software-defined networking is a way to manage a network infrastructure using software, with a single pane of glass dashboard. It enables the automation of several different time-consuming processes, including configuring and scaling a network. It also allows a network administrator to easily and quickly configure and reconfigure the network based on the need to support a specific application or task. It gives network administrators an overview of the entire network and how the different network elements are interoperating to enhance or detract from network performance.

Intent-based networking takes software-defined networking one step further. It allows a network administrator to configure a network to address and support a business case, not just an individual task. If the administrator knows what they want the network to accomplish, the intent-based network can figure out how to accomplish it while adhering to previously deployed policies. An intent-based network also continuously performs self-checks as the network changes, ensuring that the network is continuing to operate as expected. If a fix is needed, the network can suggest changes for the operator to choose from and approve.

The advantages of intent-based networking

Intent-based networking has some clear advantages over regular networking and even over software-defined networking. Most of these advantages translate to a significant time savings:

  • Reduction in manual tasks: An intent-based network translates commands into actions. A network administrator does not have to configure a network to comply with a new policy or business need. The network does the thinking, verifying that a configuration will work, suggesting options to the administrator, and then making the changes to adapt to the desired configuration. The intent-based network can also provision and repair itself without human intervention.
  • Faster troubleshooting and resolution: Because an intent-based network is continuously monitoring itself, performance issues are identified immediately. The intent-based network also resolves these issues, using machine learning to determine the best solution and implement it.
  • Reduced risk of being out of compliance: Another advantage to a network that is constantly monitoring itself and correcting issues is that the network stays in compliance with any policies set by the network administrator.
  • Better security: Part of the monitoring that the intent-based network is constantly doing is looking for threats, even in encrypted traffic. Security breaches are immediately identified and contained.
  • Optimized analytics: When network administrators understand how a network is performing, they can make better decisions that result in better business outcomes. An intent-based network is constantly gathering data about itself that can be analyzed in any number of ways, providing valuable information about network performance, security threats, and more.
  • Rapid implementation of business goals into network configurations: The key differentiator between an intent-based network and a software-defined network is that an intent-based network immediately translates high-level business goals into optimal network configurations to support those goals. A network administrator can quickly review and choose from vetted configuration options, which saves a tremendous amount of time spent planning, testing, and manually configuring. Meeting business goals faster translates into significant ROI.

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