Intent-Based Networking; New Wave of Disruption

Intent-Based Networking will indeed transform the way organizations understand enterprise networking. Intent-Based Networking will disrupt the networking infrastructure market as smart self-drive autonomous cars are disrupting transportation.

It has been about more than 30 years that network engineers and network architects are designing and deploying networks. The process is very straight forward. A team of network engineers sit down together and come up with different ways of connecting internal networks and branches to headquarter. If they are lucky enough and IT organization is embedded in business processes and strategy, there will be a more coherent strategy around connecting what to wear. But again, even when IT strategy is aligned with business strategy, the way that network engineers are doing their job is exactly the same as 30 years ago. Deploying a general purposed data centre may took about months to be completed because of the hardware nature of all solutions.

This has to be changed.

Just to be clear, when I speak about enterprise networking, I am referring to infrastructure devices such as a switch, router, firewall, wireless access point, load balancer, storage and server in a data centre or campus environment. Of course, there is always some services will be deployed on top of these hardware and software-based devices as well.

Cloud meant to change this approach. Cloud could transform the hardware-based view of networking devices and could bring the same result in a software environment that engineers — we can call them architects now — could design, deploy and manage enterprise networks in a matter of minutes instead of days and months. Plus, with the PAYG consumption-based model, it gives organizations the flexibility to start simulating some of the solutions in a test environment isolated from the production with a high level of confidence. In addition, organizations can now think of different scenarios in terms of having disaster recovery sites in the cloud, to achieve business resiliency if the main data centres go down.

DevOps was another shift in the industry. The way organizations structure development and operations team has been a big improvement in reducing the life cycle of applications and indeed networking environment. Automation and orchestration shifted our views from having pieces of software devices (the equivalent of traditional hardware 30 years ago) into a way of deploying and monitoring network with code. Continues Implementation (CI) and shorter sprints of application release, cause architects to think differently about networking devices in a way that they started to deploy virtual data centres in a matter of minutes in the cloud. If there was a problem with the performance or functionality, no problem. Kill the whole data centre and redeploy the fixed version again. Only minutes of downtime.

Intent-Based Networking (IBN) will change this approach again. Or better to say will transform this mindset. Let’s have an analogy about cars and transportation. Think of DevOps as “automatic transmission” and Intent-Based Networking as a self-driving autonomous car.

Let’s have a look at the following figure. This figure explains different levels of automation in the driving technology which basically level 0 is no automation and level 5 the highest level of automation which means autonomous driver-less car.

In the enterprise networking world, we have been reached to level 4 of automation with DevOps and Cloud technologies. However, level 5 is what has been known as Intent-Based Networking.

This is the ultimate weapon of business leaders to use networking technologies integrated with business strategy.

The way that Intent-Based Networking works is actually very easy to understand.

As the input, the operator which is normally a developer, enter the networking requirements in plain English language, and then the Intent engine will translate that into a vendor-agnostic high level and low-level design. For the next step, the network will be deployed automatically in a multi-cloud environment and then continuously been monitored to make sure that it meets all SLAs and still is fit for purpose.

I give you some examples.

The operator can enter his intent as follows:

“I need a centralized one site data centre in AWS to deliver Microsoft Active Directory services for 10,000 users.”

“I need two data centres, one in Azure and one in AWS, to deliver IoT applications with 4,000 edge routers.”

“I need an AI-ready data centre with 0% packet loss and low latency less than mil second to cater for user profiling AI application with the throughput of 1 TB.”

In all these examples, Intent engine translates these business requirements into a high level and low-level design with a vendor-agnostic approach consisting of networking infrastructure devices from e.g. Cisco, Juniper, Mellanox etc. Then the intent engine will start to deploy the network as requested and after deployment, it will monitor the performance continuously.

This way, we are dealing with zero-touch provisioning of network solutions and an effective way of enabling business strategy at the networking layer. Which was a challenge till now.

There are leading vendors in this space that are moving towards Intent-Driven Networking technology including Cisco, Juniper and Huawei.

There are several startups that are active in this space, but most of their focus is on monitoring Intent-Based Networks.

It is still early to talk about market size and the opportunity here. Even Gartner is still hesitant of naming IBN a market.

In my view, IBN is the future of networking and it is inevitable. Just like Tesla Motors which started by level 5 automation in-car space, IBN will be the dominant force in networking space in 3 years time.

Network Engineers should watch this space closely as this job title may not exist in 3–5 years time . . .

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