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Intent-based Networking

by Andrew Lerner  |  February 7, 2017  |  4 Comments

There’s always a “next big thing” in networking…. Five years ago, it was Ethernet Fabrics in the data center, then came SDN, and currently it is SD-WAN.  As SD-WAN adoption grows and shifts from bleeding to leading edge, the next big thing on the networking horizon promises to be …. wait for it … Intent-based Networking.

nextbigthing

Intent-based networking is not a product, or a market. Instead, it is a piece of networking software that helps to plan, design and implement/operate networks that can improve network availability and agility.  Another way to describe it would be lifecycle management software for networking infrastructure. We just published research on the topic, and put forth our definition of what an Intent-based networking system incorporates, which are four key things:

  1. Translation and Validation– The system takes a higher-level business policy (what) as input from end users and converts it to the necessary network configuration (how). The system then generates and validates the resulting design and configuration for correctness.
  2. Automated Implementation – The system can configure the appropriate network changes (how) across existing network infrastructure. This is typically done via network automation and/or network orchestration.
  3. Awareness of Network State – The system ingests real-time network status for systems under its administrative control, and is protocol- and transport-agnostic.
  4. Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation– The system continuously validates (in real time) that the original business intent of the system is being met, and can take corrective actions (such as blocking traffic, modifying network capacity or notifying) when desired intent is not met.

There will be products that address some of these components, and other products that address all of them.  Right now, it is very early days and Intent-based networking will not be mainstream for several years, but solutions are now emerging that provide value in enterprise. Startups like Apstra, Forward Networks, Waltz and Veriflow are doing some cool stuff and driving innovation, but incumbent networking vendors are working on this also.  In the research, we talk about the pros/cons of the technology and why, when, and how to get started, along with some predictions about adoption.

Innovation Insight: Intent-Based Networking Systems

Summary: Intent-based networking is nascent, but could be the next big thing in networking, as it promises to improve network availability and agility, which are key as organizations transition to digital business. I&O leaders responsible for networking need to determine if and when to pilot this technology.

Regards, Andrew

Category: intent-based-networking  just-published  networking  

Tags: apstra  forward  intent  sdn  sdwan  veriflow  waltz  

Andrew Lerner
Research Vice President
4 years at Gartner
19 years IT Industry

Andrew Lerner is a Vice President in Gartner Research. He covers enterprise networking, including data center, campus and WAN with a focus on emerging technologies (SDN, SD-WAN, and Intent-based networking). Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Intent-based Networking


  1. Ben Baker says:

    Agree that intent-driven systems are becoming increasingly important to enabling autonomous networks. Tell the network what you want to accomplish, not exactly what to do and how to do it. Networks continue to become more and more complex as they get bigger and bigger in response to traffic demands. Intent-driven approaches are an important element of simplifying network operations and even democratizing access to running networks. No longer need specific, esoteric knowledge of the CLI for example.

  2. I couldn’t agree more – the next big thing in networking is automation, whether it’s abstracting underlying complexity via SDN to orchestrating policy across multiple network elements to ensure security and agile network operations. And the reason? While capex remains a challenge for IT, nearly everyone spends 3-5X that amount in opex. What’s the end game? It’s Juniper’s vision: a Self-Driving Network.

  3. Yishay Yovel says:

    There is an increase in “meta management” companies in networking (SDWAN, partial “IBNS”) and security (where product silos are event worse). There is a need to abstract discrete capabilities into an orchestration engine to essentially overcome complexity and create agility where silos exist. There is typically a “small issue” of vendors cooperation – who has the APIs, what kind of data is available, what kind of control actions can be taken. This has worked in the past in loosely coupled ways (SIEM) the real question is that can it work in a highly couple way like IBNS.

  4. Stacy Williams says:

    This is the future indeed. Current SDWAN solutions while promoting innovative application aware networking functionality still have to be integrated into Networking environments at layer 2-3. This can be a daunting process for complex environments that still requires skilled networking talent. This doesn’t even address the business driven behaviors such as failover and capacity augment. Looking forward to see how this technology develops.



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