Benefits and Challenges of Intent-based Networking

Intent-based networking is being touted as the next big thing in IT (information technology) networking, with companies from a variety of industries already starting to deploy it in their networks. It takes advantage of cloud computing and uses algorithms to make data networks more intelligent and secure.

What is Intent-based Networking?

Intent-based networking (IBN) is a software-enabled automation technique that improves network operations and uptime by combining intelligence, analytics, and orchestration. IBN allows for flexible and agile network design that optimizes the quality of service for end-users, using an algorithm that automates much of the process and scales well at a low cost. 

While traditional approaches to network management can scale up to a certain point, they quickly run into problems as a network grows larger. IBN addresses these issues by automating processes based on intent, giving network administrators tools that make it easier to manage large networks.

There are four main characteristics of an intent-based network:

  • Translation and Validation: The network architecture is guided by a higher-level business policy derived from user feedback. The software then checks to see if the query is doable and sends proposed setups to the network administrator for authorization. This means intent is translated into actionable plans by validating against current network constraints.
  • Automated Implementation: Implementation does not necessitate any manual input. All new setups are carried out and applied across the entire network architecture in an automated manner. This means actions are automated based on plans via software or other mechanisms.
  • Awareness of Network State: The third characteristic is awareness of all services across all layers, which allows monitoring and measurement at any layer to be analyzed in context with its peers.
  • Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation: After a change is made through intent-based methods, it’s important to monitor the results and adapt accordingly. This final step increases confidence that proper changes have been made.

These four characteristics show that automation propagates throughout different levels of your network based on feedback from tests and real-time traffic analysis.

What Is the purpose of intent-based networking?

One of the problems in traditional IT networking is that it wasn’t built with automation in mind. IBN improves on traditional IT networking from enhancing security to improving performance by basing its design on identity, automation, and intent rather than source and destination. This allows for more security from intrusion attempts, reduced human error, and time-saving. 

IBN helps to ensure that your network remains safe and productive without taking away your need to grow it quickly. Plus, IT professionals can use their time working on projects other than doing tasks that should be automated.

How Does It Work?

Over time, IT networks can become cluttered and hard to manage, slowing down performance for users and making it difficult to add new systems. The logical step in addressing these issues is to rework your network, but what does that entail exactly? 

IBN uses an innovative approach to redesign and deploy networks that focus on all aspects of a company’s IT infrastructure rather than only hardware assets. IBN addresses challenges related to managing enterprise networks, using AI and machine learning to execute regular activities, define rules, respond to system events, and verify that objectives and actions are met. 

Intended for environments where big data, smart devices, software-defined everything (SDx), analytics, and automation overlap, IBN analyzes both structured and unstructured data sets to understand events happening across an entire enterprise—down to machines within individual buildings. These events trigger responses by orchestrating actions across multiple areas including physical security systems (such as access controls), wireless settings (such as visibility), and even cloud applications.  

Also read: Bringing Hyperautomation to ITOps

What are IBN’s Benefits Over Other Network Architectures?

  • Faster troubleshooting: IBN uses information about applications and services to troubleshoot common issues before they occur. You can now take action immediately to solve problems as they arise, instead of relying on slow, manual processes.
  • Reduce or eliminate manual tasks: IBN allows networks to be managed based on users’ intentions, actions, and interactions. That means networks can be quickly configured when new nodes join, even when they are completely unfamiliar with each other’s existence. This will result in less configuration work for IT administrators and more flexibility for employees who have access to an enterprise network.
  • Reduced misconfigurations: Misconfigurations can be a huge headache for IT. They result in frustrated employees and an overworked IT department, and they increase security risks for your organization. Fortunately, IBN makes it easier to get it right from day one by building networks around what you need to do (versus how you do it). This helps reduce misconfigurations and increase network efficiency.
  • Reduced downtime and enhanced security: IBN reduces downtime for servers because you can quickly identify potential issues and react before they cause an outage, reducing incidents that will cost money and time to fix. 

What are its challenges?

If you’re new to IBN, you may wonder why more organizations aren’t on board with it. After all, centralized orchestration eliminates point solutions (which is always better for cost management), and automation of network policies seems like a strong selling point. However, some challenges can make an intent-based approach hard to implement successfully. 

The inability to store security metadata outside SDN controllers

Once security metadata is stored inside SDN controllers, it becomes harder to secure communication between orchestrators, controllers, and managed devices—a critical limitation since a controller failure could lead to a catastrophic loss of control over a network. 

Centralized automation requires close alignment with existing tools

It’s common for enterprise IT organizations to have hundreds of different management tools from multiple vendors that were implemented years ago as part of an initial virtualization or cloud migration effort. Not all will play well with centralized orchestration. IT professionals may have to consolidate some of these tools onto their VNF manager platform if they want centralized automation. Alternatively, they can look at decoupling different types of tasks (e.g., device management versus application delivery) so they can keep using older tools without sacrificing flexibility or wasting resources on integrations where it isn’t worth it 

Over-reliance on one vendor creates blind spots

When you rely heavily on one vendor, your networking infrastructure might become highly dependent upon it. This opens up potential vendor lock-in risks. For example, if your system goes down due to an outage, there might not be any feasible ways for you to restore full functionality until an alternative solution is found. If you use more than one networking vendor, chances are you won’t suffer issues like these 

Immature product portfolio leads to fragmented adoption

Before large enterprises start deploying intent-based solutions en masse, there needs to be a large enough pool of products available. Right now, many vendors are still working on developing their offerings, so it’s hard for IT pros to justify buying them or building proofs of concept. However, once these problems are resolved, it should become easier for other enterprises to follow suit.

What Is the Relationship Between Intent-based Networking and SDN?

The relationship between IBN and SDN isn’t particularly complex. IBN leverages both Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) to enable you to move your workloads around your data center or cloud environment based on activity patterns. In essence, IBN allows you to treat enterprise networks as if they were a single logical fabric with thousands of ports available for use by different applications that need access at any given time—even if those applications aren’t running at the same time. 

How Will It Affect Businesses in the Future?

If you’re like most IT professionals, you’re tired of dealing with two different types of network issues every day. Device configuration problems and application compatibility problems. You spend too much time troubleshooting inefficiently, trying to determine if an issue is related to poorly configured devices or to an application that doesn’t work properly. If you’re looking for a scalable, cost-effective solution to your networking needs, you might consider intent-based networking.

Businesses are already monitoring their networks for performance problems. Over time, companies may no longer care whether something happens at Layer two or Layer seven—they’ll just want it to happen when they need it to happen. That’s where intent networking can step in and offer assistance.

Read next: NetOps vs DevOps: Bringing Automation to the Network

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an experienced B2B technology and finance writer and award-winning public speaker. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook, and has written for various publications, including eWEEK, Enterprise Networking Planet, Tech Republic, eSecurity Planet, CIO Insight, Enterprise Storage Forum, IT Business Edge, Webopedia, Software Pundit, and Geekflare.
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