Intent-Based Networking

A major shift in network management is coming. Thanks to advances in machine learning and network automation, intent-based networking (IBN) systems will soon be a reality. IBN systems are in their infancy today, but many of the elements that comprise an IBN are already available from manufacturers, and experts believe IBNs will be mainstream by 2020.

The Promise of Intent-Based Networking

In a nutshell, you give an IBN system your high-level business policies and it automatically configures the network to implement them. IBNs continuously monitor the state of the network to ensure your policies are being enforced, gather data to form context and use what they learn to adapt to your organization’s changing business demands.

IBN systems give administrators more control over the network while requiring them to perform fewer tasks. The efficiencies gained from IBNs will be imperative for administrators hoping to keep pace with the proliferation of mobile applications and devices along with the expanding role of the Internet of Things (IoT). Networks will need to be smarter to ensure any device in any location can access them securely. While current network management practices may not be enough to keep up, IBN systems will scale to meet the challenge of managing complex networks.

IBN systems go beyond just automating tedious tasks like provisioning, configuring, and troubleshooting. They automate the entire lifecycle of network infrastructure and services. IBNs enable you to define how you want the network to behave and then let network automation create, validate, and enforce policies to uphold that behavior. It will significantly cut the amount of time you spend reacting to trouble tickets from users and allows more time to deal with proactive notifications from the network. IBNs will shift resources away from performing menial tasks, and free them up to focus on making your network a competitive differentiator for your organization.

Key Features

So, what makes IBN different than current network management tools and strategies? A traditional network is analogous to a self-driving car where many of the mundane driving tasks, such as changing lanes can be automated. IBNs are more akin to an autonomous car, capable of continuously gathering information and using it to adapt when conditions change. So, for example, if traffic gets congested on one route, the autonomous car has the insight needed to calculate an alternate route.
Key features of IBNs include:

  • Intent: IBNs understand commands from system administrators and translate them into actions. Administrators can define high-level business policies and IBNs translate those commands into actions. They validate whether a network policy can be implemented and then proactively manage resources to enforce the policy.
  • Awareness: IBNs are constantly gathering data to monitor the state of the network, including traffic logs and streaming telemetry. They continuously assess the state of the network and determine the best way to implement the desired state. IBNs identify potential problems, react to changing network conditions, and take corrective action in real-time to solve issues without manual intervention.
  • Context: IBNs gather information about who users are, where they are located, what resources they access and establishes baseline behavior. When the system perceives behavior outside the norm the administrator is notified which app, user, and the device is impacted or is going to be impacted. It learns over time, becomes more predictive, and provides suggestions for remediating potential problems before they impact users. IBNs use what they learn to adapt over time and customize experiences for specific users, improve network performance, and strengthen network defenses against misuse and attacks.
Intent-Based Networking Examples

One example of the potential of IBNs is building out services and circuits across a network with minimal human interaction. The system receives the administrator’s intent to build a service with specific characteristics from point A to point B across a network with hundreds of distributed devices. The IBN calculates the possible paths for delivering on the requirements. Once a primary path and a fallback path are identified, the network takes responsibility for programming each of the network devices on each path to deliver the service. If the primary network path fails the system automatically reprograms the devices to use the fallback route. Manually programming each of the devices required to deliver the service is not only cumbersome, it also introduces the chance of human error.

Another example of the power of IBNs demonstrates the system’s ability to understand intent. In this example, a user at a given location routinely downloads small amounts of information from a corporate server onto their laptop. The network establishes this as a baseline behavior for that user. When the context changes and the same user using the same laptop from the same location now starts downloading gigabytes of data to an external server, the system perceives this as a threat. It immediately notifies the system administrator and quarantines the user from transmitting any additional data.

IT Transformation

Another point to consider is the need for IT transformation. IBNs will require a “modernized infrastructure” capable of interacting with the intelligent control mechanisms coming to advent. After modernizing the network, the transition of the network from a manual interaction to that of a software-defined and intent-based scenario begins. In parallel with the network transition, an IT transformation must also take place.

According to Ryan Clabaugh, Director of Cisco Engineering at Cerium, “The current generation of IT professionals must be prepared to shift in role and responsibility from that of a reactive network administrator to one that focuses instead on analytics provided by the IBN and responds to events at a much higher architectural/administrative level. The implementation of an IBN without parallel IT Transformation will likely yield poor results in overall effectiveness.

Getting Started

Cisco, along with a handful of startup companies, already have roadmaps for creating IBN platforms. Cisco recently rolled out a new version of their Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Services that delivers many of the critical components required for IBNs. Cisco also announced “The Network. Intuitive,” built on DNA architecture, which they believe puts them years ahead of their competitors in the race to develop intent-based networks. While this technology still has a lot of room to grow before it enables true intent-based networking, Cisco’s “The Network. Intuitive” is a huge first step. It helps you plan, design, implement and operate an agile network enabling your network team to expend less effort performing menial operational maintenance tasks and concentrate on generating value to your organization’s top and bottom lines.

Cerium Networks is a Cisco Gold Certified Partner, ranking us in the top echelon of technology advisers. Cerium Networks is a Master Security and Master Collaboration Partner which further facilitates our ability to intelligently discuss business outcomes including IBNs and the components that make this new model function. Combining our Cisco expertise with our own value-added services portfolio puts us in a unique position to serve as your trusted technology adviser. Want to learn more about intent-based networking or get started with Cisco’s Network Intuitive? Contact Cerium at solutions@ceriumnetworks.com.

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