Intent-based networking vs. SD-WAN: What’s the difference, and why it matters
by April 5, 2019

Filed under: Cloud Computing, Networking Technology, Performance Monitoring

Buckle up, IT pros, and move over SDN: Intent-based networking (IBN) is the latest approach to network management that’s buzzing in the enterprise space. While this acronym may not be as familiar as others that have come to define IT ops and digital transformation (think SD-WAN and SaaS), it’s not actually an entirely new approach.

In fact, IBN shares a lot of similarities with existing SD-WAN technologies in how it simplifies the management of increasingly distributed networks. With both technologies, network teams rely on a centralized controller to manage applications and devices across the wide-area network. Both methods are also great fits for networks that are evolving and growing, as they have the ability to understand network configuration and interaction across numerous devices.

With IBN, however, the network is viewed through a slightly different lens. While SD-WAN focuses on devices, IBN has business objectives in mind, leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and network orchestration to automate administrative tasks.

Like SD-WAN, IBN aims to take the overly-complex task of manually configuring the network off of centralized IT by establishing and automating business policies. But IBN takes a closer look at departmental objectives, intelligently “best routing” traffic over specific servers and network pathways that will help teams accomplish their specific goals.

For instance, an IBN policy may be able to identify which devices and applications are being used by a sales team, and allocate that traffic over a designated server. The IBN command may also dictate that applications used by a company’s accounting team can never access that sales server to prevent different types of traffic from interfering with each other. While this is a relatively straightforward example of IBN in action, the ability to automate commands based upon changing business goals in a simplistic, automated manner is a boon that businesses have been waiting for.

The method was first defined by Gartner in 2017, who characterized these systems as including four different elements:

  1. Translation and validation: The platform can translate commands/business intent into actions that software can act on.
  2. Automated implementation: Once the command/business intent has been defined, network resources are allocated and policies are enforced so teams can meet their goal.
  3. State awareness: The system actively delivers insights into the state of the network.
  4. Assurance and dynamic optimization/remediation: With ML, the platform will deploy and maintain the desired state of the network, applying automated corrective measures as needed.

While IBN platforms are relatively new, they really act as an extension of existing software-defined networking tools by automating configuration policies and putting network management through the business lens. And just like SD-WAN, IBN solutions and network performance monitoring tools go hand-in-hand in giving teams full visibility into end-user to help ease overall management.

While IBN tools administer tasks to network hardware, performance monitoring solutions can tell centralized IT whether or not a specific node is capable of actually acting on the command. While IBN gives managers an additional layer of automation, monitoring solutions give IT assurance that task can, or cannot, be executed as intended.

No matter what approach to network management IT teams take, they’ll always need a network performance monitoring solution that can be the eyes and ears of the network.

To learn about what a comprehensive performance monitoring solution should be able to accomplish, read our whitepaper, Three Essential Pillars of Comprehensive Performance Monitoring.