Is Intent-Based Networking Worth Waiting For?
by Lea Rabinowitz on

In a recent blog post on the modern networking technologies of 2018, we discussed one of the newest IT buzzwords—intent-based networking (IBN). Like any nascent concept, it can take a couple of mentions before it piques interest. It’s been appearing more regularly in networking conversations, though. While IBN could easily be dismissed as just another name for software-defined network-based workflow automation, that’s not exactly right.

Instead, IBN should be viewed as network lifecycle software that automates the process from design and implementation to deployment and validation. In research published by Gartner, analyst Andrew Lerner outlined four key components of IBN:

  1. Translation and Validation—Translates high-level business policies into network configurations, and then validates design and configuration for correctness.
  2. Automated Implementation—Programmatic implementation of network configurations that is typically completed by network automation or orchestration.
  3. Awareness of Network State—Ability to ingest and aggregate real-time network status for systems under control.
  4. Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation—Continuous real-time validation and ability to automatically adjust network behaviors to maintain the original business intent of the network.

What IT Administrator Dreams Are Made Of 

While Lerner has provided a framework for intent-based networking, the actual touted benefits that vendors are working to produce are hard to ignore. From better access control to massive scalability, security and multi-vendor device management, IBN has the potential to fundamentally change not only the network, but the day-to-day lives of IT administrators. This will be especially important as the modern IT environment of heterogeneous devices and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications expands to further complicate network management.

Within the next few years, as intent-based networking evolves, enterprises could be commanding network resources from carriers, right down to the granularity of application flow levels.

An Intelligent Network for the Digital Transformation

As we inch towards autonomous networks infused with machine learning and big data analytics, we can’t (even for a second) forget about the current demands of the digital transformation. While so-called “self-driving” networks promise to help IT stop wasting time and money operating networks, we don’t need pie-in-the-sky ideas to achieve that. Instead, network monitoring tools can gather detailed performance of SaaS applications, remote sites, public cloud infrastructure and private cloud deployments for actionable diagnostics.

Admittedly, network monitoring will not translate high-level business policies into network configurations, but you also don’t have to wait for it. Instead, companies can choose right now to have a more intelligent, agile network that can stand up to disruptions. Of course, we can’t say that for all network and application monitoring solutions; some are just record-and-report. Differentiated offerings include many of the enviable features of intent-based networking, like continuous monitoring, even in cases of satellite offices and mobile devices, and of course visibility on a per-app basis so that monitoring doesn’t stop at the network border.

The Votes Are In

So is IBN worth waiting for? No, probably not. We’re not trying to squash the dreams of network engineers, but why wait and hope when there are no guarantees on this technology making ground in the near future. You can take control already with modern network monitoring tools, and revisit intent-based networking once it matures more. For more information on changing the trajectory of your business, read our guide on How IT Can Start Tackling Business Goals.

Filed Under: Industry Insights

Tags: intent based networking , network automation , network design