IT teams need to have a goal for their networks. They need to understand what they want a network to do and configure that network’s hardware to achieve it. Traditional, the network team configures the hardware manually. However, a recent development in networking seeks to change that idea: intent-based networking.
This concept has certainly piqued the interest of the networking field. In a 2017 blog post, Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner described intent-based networking (IBN) as the “next big thing” in networking. Since then, we’ve seen a handful of vendors, such as Cisco and Juniper, release IBN solutions, and we believe more companies will follow suit. However, because the concept is still new, it’s a safe bet most IT professionals don’t know what IBN actually is. To help remedy that, we’ve outlined the basics of IBN and how it affects network monitoring below.
What is intent-based networking?
Intent-based networking refers to the use of AI, machine learning, and network orchestration to automatically perform tasks on a network. In essence, IBN automates network management by delivering tasks and requirements to network nodes. This means that network teams won’t have to manually configure devices to orchestrate tasks. The AI and machine learning capabilities automatically administer commands to nodes based on the business’s intent. The intent is typically entered by an enterprise into a GUI or API and then interpreted by the IBN solution. Based on this, the IBN tool configures the network hardware to fulfill the stated goal.
According to Lerner, an IBN system should consist of four different elements:
- Translation and Validation. The system translates a business’s intent into a configuration for the network’s devices, validating it to ensure the intent is being fulfilled.
- Automated Implementation. The system automates the administration process, removing the requirement for manual configuration.
- Awareness of Network State. The system can interpret the network’s status in real-time based on monitoring feedback.
- Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation. The system continuously ensures that the network is meeting the intent and corrects the configuration if it is not.
Intent-based networking versus software-defined networking
IBN solutions are still a recent development, but the idea behind it is about as old as networks themselves. Companies have always had intents for their networking; technology has now caught up to deliver that intent automatically. We’ve seen some of the fundamentals of IBN in previous networking technologies, such as software-defined networking (SDN). SDN centralizes the network management process by allowing IT teams to configure hardware via a program. IBN is essentially an extension of SDN that automates the configuration process. With IBN, IT professionals gain a network management tool that is centralized, automated, and business-centric.
How IBN affects network monitoring
Network performance monitors (NPMs) examine and analyze a network to ensure it’s running at peak performance. As IBN tools administer tasks to network hardware, NPMs let you know if a node isn’t handling its task well. The remediation functions of IBN programs might also aid in fixing performance issues, depending on what fixes it applies. IBN managers and NPMs go hand-in-hand, automating network tasks and ensuring optimal performance. In the future, we expect to see NPMs and network management tools with IBN features implemented out-of-the-box.
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