Blog post

Intent-based Networking

By Andrew Lerner | February 07, 2017 | 13 Comments

NetworkingJust PublishedIntent-Based Networking

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.


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

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Ankur says:

      But at the same we cannot achieve seamless cohesion across different vendor via the API’s. The VIM’s on which they can be hosted is still a challenge, i believe. And API’s exposure is more suited to expose new features as compared to exposing the old features.

  • 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.

  • Fedor Baldrian says:

    So as a Senior Network Engineer, who actually writes hes own apps in python to simplify much of the day2day… according to you guys… i should be looking for a new career…

    • Andrew Lerner says:

      There will always me a need for skilled engineers, Intent-driven networking won’t change that.

      • Fedor Baldrian says:

        my issue is really the tone of the conversation, for example, people either cant find talent or they are just sick of having to deal with companies EX Presidio, when they fail in regards to recruitment.

        I am also a Six Sigma / ITIL guy and find all of this “skynet” taking control to really go against incident/problem/change/release concepts outlined in ITIL/ITSM. So, i am going to generate metrics and MY program is just going to inject based on a condition that could change at any moment?

        ask me, are network administrators dead? they should be for sure but when the gun gets pointed at skilled network engineers i dont get it… you are biting the hand that feeds you people.

        You’ll hear suits talk about, they manage a business relationship; this made some sense to me back in the late 2000’s but i find this idea of a bunch of middle management trying to cut out the actual TALENT to be destructive and most important, LAZY.

        see that clown Ben, throws around the words “esoteric” and “cli”, reason we use CLI is because we can actually write software to automate deployments/mass changes ETC. I mean, you people cant even get the damn business requirements correct 90% … now your going to talk about outsourcing the actual TALENT that fixes your mistakes?

        to take a quote from taken, “Good Luck”.

  • Alex R says:

    OMG whats next feelings based networking? I felt the packet should have got there but it didnt. oh well I feel bad about that.

    I intended for it to work….. gee thanks Cisco!

    Lets be honest its a game of we suck at SDWAN so lets change the naming convention.

  • Appan says:

    In technology, we have the habit of inventing new acronyms or buzz phrases for old approaches. Intent based Networking (IBN) seems like the policy-based networks of early 2000s approach in a ‘new bottle’ !! Intelliden was born out of that concept, acquired by IBM in 2010 and Apstra’s recent acquisition by Juniper. Not sure what the difference is except the structure high-level policy language replaced by natural language.