When Gartner flags up a new trend in technology as “the next big thing”, the world usually takes notice. When the market analyst picked out intent-based networking as ‘one to watch’ back in 2017, it was a concept that only a select group of specialists working in obscure corners of the network infrastructure sector had heard of.
Now, intent-based networking enjoys a much more prominent profile and is on the verge of realising Gartner’s prediction. Global software giant Cisco has put its full weight behind the concept with a comprehensive portfolio of solutions. The market for intent-based networking products and services is already worth around $1bn, and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 30% through to 2026.
So what is behind the hype? Going back to that original blog, Gartner described intent-based networking as “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.”
Since then, intent-based networking IDN) has been described as the successor to software-defined networking (SDN)., Rather than using software to define and manage how nodes in a network interact device to device, IDN focuses on the output and performance of the network as a whole, using advanced analytics, AI and machine learning to make sure intended outcomes are delivered.
To put that in even simpler terms, IDN is all about getting exactly what you want out of your network in terms of performance and business goals - something that becomes increasingly challenging technically as networks become more complex.
With AI tools running the show, IDC defines intent-based networking as “a step toward the goal of creating an autonomous infrastructure, which features cognitive thinking through artificial intelligence and machine learning and the capacity to proactively detect and remediate network and security events.”
So does IDN live up to the hype? Here are four ways it has the potential to revolutionise enterprise IT.
Aligns network performance to business goals
If you had to pick one defining feature of IDN, it would be that it aims to bridge the gap between business goals or intentions and what your network actually does. Via a combination of defined policies, real-time analytics and intelligent automation, IDN creates a continual feedback loop where the system is able to constantly check and adjust performance in areas like security, availability, traffic priorities and agility in line with desired outcomes.
Delivers close to full automation of network orchestration
According to a survey carried out by Cisco, 73% of network teams spend more than half their time just keeping their networks running. This is the reality of network infrastructure management in a sector where manual processes are still commonplace.
But as software-defined networking becomes the dominant model, as networks become more complex and dynamic, this becomes increasingly unsustainable. Networking teams simply cannot keep up with the day-to-day demands of network management and orchestration at the scale and speed required using manual means alone.
IDN is currently the most comprehensive model available for applying AI and machine learning tools to the automation of end-to-end network processes.
Boosts efficiency, performance and innovation through intelligence-led automation
In many ways, network automation helps to deliver important business goals in itself, before you even get to the stage of writing specific policies into the framework. Automated network management is more efficient than manual.
With real time data analytics and intelligent decision-making tools, any performance problems in the network can be pinpointed instantly, troubleshooted, isolated and fixed. Processes can be optimised as the system learns the combinations that produce the best performance outcomes. Availability increases and overall output improves.
At the same time, freed from the shackles of having to spend so much time keeping the cogs turning, network engineers can instead focus their time on innovation and improvement - armed with all the data they will ever need.
Simplifies management of hybrid and multi-cloud architectures
Finally, to give a specific example of where IDN has a potential to make a huge difference in enterprise networking, it’s in managing hybrid and multi-cloud architectures. The ‘pick-and-mix’ approach to choosing multiple cloud services based on the best fit for each task, and utilising a blend of on-premise, private and public cloud deployments, hands enterprises a high level of control as they look to optimise IT performance in increasingly complex digital environments.
But sticking multiple cloud components together to create a cohesive whole presents its own problems. One solution is to treat it as a networking challenge and address the issue of how to make multiple clouds communicate effectively with one another. In this regard, IDN presents an intriguing possibility, as it allows those building and managing enterprise cloud architectures to define the performance outcomes from the outset and automate the complex task of keeping everything on the right track.