What is Intent Based Networking?

Intent-Based Networking moves organizations from reactive networking where everything that happens on a network is in response to something, to proactive networking where everything that happens on a network is to deliver the business goal or the intent. Intent-based networking requires the networking software to collect the appropriate telemetry data, analyze that data, and take actions so that the network can meet the businesses objectives. Intent-based networking is not software-defined networking, but software-defined networking (SDN) is a logical path to intent-based networking.

Intent-based networking is how IT will manage networks in the future but the concept is still in its infancy. The network team can’t wait for an intent-based networking future, they have to improve the way they manage networks today. IT should, however, make sure that the steps they take to improve today’s network, like leveraging open networking, lay the foundation for intent-based networking. If organizations are not careful, intent-based networking can make them even more susceptible to vendor lock-in.

Next generation SDN solutions make managing networks of massive scale and multiple physical locations possible, but at some point, even the best networking team can’t stay on top of every aspect of the network. The idea behind intent-based networking is to leverage analytics to enable the network to take self-correcting actions so that the networking team doesn’t need to be involved in every single detail of the data center’s network.

The most obvious required addition to SDN solutions is the ability to capture the various “intents” or business objectives of the organization. An intent-based solution needs these as a baseline to which it compares current network operations.

SDN vendors, in most cases, collect telemetry data on all network operations that their software controls. The SDN vendor also has to add an analytics engine which is different than network diagnostics, a common SDN feature. Network diagnostics informs the networking team what is wrong. Analytics advises the networking team not only of a problem but also how to correct it. More importantly, an analytics engine predicts future problems and allows their correction before users or application owners notice a performance drop or application outage.

In addition to analytics, the SDN solution has to provide autonomic operation. Most SDN solutions have some form of automation or programmability as features. Autonomic operation leverages automation and combines it with the knowledge gained from the analytics engine. With this combination intact, the network can now proactively make adjustments to its configuration based on how those results line up with the various “intents” of the business.

There are several approaches to delivering intent based networking, and the capability is not exclusive to SDN solutions. Proprietary vendors are quickly moving to deliver “Intent” based solutions. Proprietary solutions, of course, have all the challenges listed in the prior two entries in this series, most notably vendor lock-in, high cost and lack of flexibility. There are also third-party approaches that layer on top of the networking environment and pull telemetry data from the various components. The problem with this approach is that in most cases these solutions also only work with a “short-list” of proprietary solutions. These solutions suffer from the same lack of hardware flexibility as proprietary solutions. They also are entirely dependent on the proprietary vendors sharing access to their telemetry data.

Getting Ready for Intent-based Networking

As organizations improve their networks responsiveness and attempt to lower costs, there are key capabilities they should look for in their SDN solution to make sure it is ready for an intent-based future. First, it needs to leverage a REST API that provides full parity with a command line interface. Comprehensive API’s are required so when intent-based networking is layered in it can manipulate the network configuration to align with the established intents.

Second, the SDN solution needs to provide complete telemetry data and capture that data in fine detail. This enables the intent-based networking component to mine that data to ensure correct configuration decisions are made when maintaining intent coherency.

Third, the SDN solution needs to provide centralized control so that when the intent based component initiates a network change it has a single interface that executes this. The centralized control can be through a centralized controller or a controller-less fabric. The controller-less fabric has an advantage since the changes can be made in parallel across the network.

Finally, the network needs to maintain its openness. The organization needs to avoid getting even further locked-in to a particular vendor in order to gain intent-based networking. To maintain an open network in the future the organization needs to select an SDN solution that not only provides open networking today but can maintain its openness as intent based capabilities are added to it.

SDN, assuming the vendor adds the above capabilities, has a clear advantage. The SDN vendor can integrate intent based networking directly into their software, which lowers the overhead and provides full access to the telemetry information. Integrating intent-based networking into SDN should also reduce implementation complexity.

Conclusion

SDN removes network cost and operational roadblocks to data center scale. SDN with integrated intent-based networking enables the organization to accelerate scale with the full confidence that current IT staffing levels are enough to meet application service levels continuously.

Sponsored by Pluribus Networks

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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