What Exactly is Intent-Based Networking (IBN) and Its Relevance to Me?

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Published 05-Jan-2018 14:51:52
What is intent based networking?

They say IBN is the future. What’s the reality?

Intent-based networking (IBN) systems are claimed by many to be the new emerging model for networks. It’s said they’ll monitor, identify and react in real time to changing network conditions, and that they’ll become increasingly essential as organisations digitise their operations because the sheer volume of connections, devices and users will make manual administration too time-consuming, costly and error-prone.

According to Forbes, IBN “leverages the capabilities of SDN [software-defined networking] but marries it to intelligence.” If IBN really catches on, it's suggested that engineers will be able “to use GUI-based tools to abstract the many complex technical steps underpinning how services are delivered. The intent is then interpreted across different devices, without engineers having to individually alter each device in a network.”

With Gartner research suggesting that 75% of organisations still manage their networks manually, it sounds like there should be a ready market. But not all the components are yet in place. Gartner Research vice president Andrew Lerner thinks that IBN won’t be mainstream till at least 2020.

So should you be considering investing in IBN-ready technologies now? Or should you just sit tight?

Cisco DNA shows IBN is well under way

Cisco digital network architecture (DNA) is Cisco’s response to IBN. Every new Cisco product is designed to work within DNA to futureproof and protect your business intuitively. Studies indicate that organisations that have already invested in Cisco DNA will realise over 400% ROI over five years and get payback within nine months.

Take the recently-announced series of Catalyst 9000 switches. You might think it’s ‘just another switch’, but it’s a great way to get network digitisation under way. Catalyst 9000 switches constantly adapt to solve new challenges and their integrated security helps address ever-changing threats. They simplify management of evolving mobility, Internet-of-Things (IoT), and cloud requirements.

And those features are there today. It’s an ideal building block if you are considering moving incrementally to IBN.

More about Cisco DNA

Cisco DNA is an open, programmable architecture covering switches, routers, wireless, and application controllers powered by Cisco ONE software – which provides users with all the network-related intelligence they could need. Through increased automation and orchestration it responds to different situations dynamically.

Deploying Cisco DNA strategically should reduce costs and complexity (Cisco refers to it as ‘turning business intent into business results’). To take a simple example, administrators can create policies around users, regardless of what device they are using. DNA learns which are the trusted employees, and automates access accordingly. Those employees that it perceives as less trusted get different permissions, and so on. Ultimately policies are under the admin’s control, but beyond that a huge amount of manual work – with its consequent errors – is eliminated.

Cisco DNA helps virtualise everything, giving freedom to run any service anywhere, independent of the underlying platform – physical or virtual, on-premises or in the cloud.

The intuitive network

Cisco describes DNA as an ‘intuitive’ network, powered by intent and informed by context.

DNA learns, adapts, and predicts. From a security perspective, it protects based on what it sees, so that the more attempts are made to hack it the smarter it gets at repelling those attacks.

  • Intent: DNA allows IT to move from tedious traditional processes to automating intent, making it possible to manage millions of devices in minutes.
  • Context: Interpreting data in context enables the network to provide new insights based on who, what, when, where and how. DNA interprets all of this, resulting in better security, more customised experiences and faster operations.
  • Intuition: DNA provides machine-learning at scale. Cisco is using the vast amount of data that flows through its networks around the world to provide actionable, predictive insights that benefit its customers.

Gartner’s view on intent-based networking

Looking for a business case? In February 2017 Gartner published a paper on IBN. Its view is that the biggest benefits from IBN are improving network agility and availability, and supporting unified intent and policy across multiple infrastructures.

The paper says: “We believe a full IBNS implementation can reduce network infrastructure delivery times to the business leaders by 50% to 90%, while simultaneously reducing the number and duration of outages by at least 50%.”

Gartner notes several other specific benefits, including:

  • Reduced operating expenditures (opex) — IBN can reduce the operational expense associated with managing networks, and can free up senior level network resources to focus on more important strategic tasks.
  • Performance optimisation — Intent-based algorithms can provide better traffic engineering versus traditional approaches, such as routing protocols. This can improve application performance.
  • Reduction in dedicated tooling costs — Intent tools can circumvent the costs of other related network infrastructure tooling, as automation and orchestration are embedded within IBN.
  • Better documentation — IBN provides real-time self-documentation, which also includes the rationale (intent) behind design/configuration decisions.
  • Improved compliance — IBN simplifies auditing due to algorithmic correctness of configurations, direct mapping to business intent, combined with ongoing dynamic real-time validation.

Trust Vohkus to assist with your IBN strategy

As a Cisco Premier Partner with over 15 years’ experience in enterprise infrastructures, Vohkus has deep and extensive experience of networking and security. Through independent, rigorous technical and commercial validation, we ensure Cisco implementations are optimised for efficient and rapid return on investment. We also partner with Cisco to deliver managed network and security packages that combine best service delivery practice with Cisco’s product portfolio.

If you’re looking to find out how IBN and Cisco DNA could benefit your business, arrange a discussion with one of our specialist networking consultants today.


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