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Why would an organization move to intent-based networking?

Intent-based networking doesn't use any magical commands. But it does use a heavy dose of automation, which might cause some network teams to be wary of the new approach.

The goal with intent-based networking is to enable network managers and engineers to deal with the network less in terms of port-by-port and device-by-device configurations and more in terms of desired behaviors at a higher level.

Intent-based networking (IBN) is intended to deliver value in multiple ways, such as:

  • making it easier to manage the network;
  • making it possible to scale up the network without adding staff;
  • reducing the number of performance problems from misconfigurations; and
  • reducing risk to the organization resulting from misconfigurations.

Getting ready for intent-based networking

IBN works by concealing a lot of low-level automation of port and device configuration below the hood.

No magic is involved with intent-based networking. It is the application of centralized, policy-based management to networking. IBN works by concealing a lot of low-level automation of port and device configuration below the hood. Policies describe how the network should function, like allowing some kinds of traffic to flow and disallowing others, for example.

Policies then get applied to entities -- such as servers and laptops -- and they are enforced by participating equipment, like routers, switches, firewalls and software-defined WAN appliances. What makes IBN feel like magic is the ability to define both policies and the things they apply to centrally, while seeing it all enforced globally.

Implications for staff

The shift to IBN can take some network staff outside of their comfort zones, as it means relying on a new layer -- or several new layers -- of automation. Network engineers have learned through bitter experience to be wary of automation.

Conceptually, however, intent-based networking isn't far removed from concepts like defining an access control list or several other operations with which network staff are familiar. If network teams can move past their caution -- after a suitable proof-of-concept deployment -- they should have no trouble adapting operationally.

Intent-based networking behind the scenes

In addition to centralizing the management of access policies and such, IBN can also centralize reporting on compliance with network configurations and provide audit trail info on where and when policy exceptions have been implemented. Combined with centralized policy management, this ability can be an enormous timesaver for IT.

Implications for equipment

Older network gear may not have the management interfaces required to be managed by an IBN system. In replacing this equipment, IT teams need only make sure the new gear is compatible with their IBN architecture of choice.

This was last published in February 2019

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What factors might inhibit your organization from implementing an IBN system, and why?
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