What is intent-based networking (IBN)?


Intent-based networking (IBN) is not exactly a new technology and the idea has been around for quite some time but, thanks to recent advancements in machine learning algorithms, it has become a reality and some of the key players in the market have started to adopt it.

While some might argue that intent-based networking is just simply a rebranded software-defined networking (SDN), according to plenty of definitions, this does not appear so, as the intent-based networking (IBN) can operate on both SDN-based or non-SDN based networks.

According to Andrew Lerner, VP at Gartner Research, intent-based networking software/systems help to plan, design and implement/operate networks in order to improve network availability and agility.

He also adds that ideas behind intent-based networking software have been around for years but the advancement in machine learning algorithms have made IBN a reality, allowing network administrators to define a desired state of the network, allow IBN software to implement those infrastructure configurations, security policies and other settings and maintain that state.

According to to the same post, IBN incorporates four key characteristics:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Awareness of Network State – The system ingests real-time network status for systems under its administrative control, and is protocol- and transport-agnostic.
  • 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.

Back in June this year, Cisco has announced its plans to deliver intent-based networking and there are plenty of other players in that same market, including Apstra, which had a solution for data center networking, as well as some other companies in the same market, including Juniper, Forward Networks, Veriflow and pretty much any SD-WAN vendor.

Cisco’s solution also relies on machine learning based “intuition” and not only allows it to collect certain network traffic with a precise focus on the type of users, resources and locations. In its announcement, Cisco has brought a couple of new technologies, including DNA Center, Software-Defined Access (SD-Acces), Network Data Platform and Assurance, Encrypted Traffic Analytics, and a completely new set of services, called “DNA Services”. These allow users to deploy new technologies for intent-based systems much faster.

Intent-based networking (IBN) is still an emerging networking technology and according to analysts, it might not become mainstream at least until 2020. It is also obvious that there is a big focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in networking, so IBN, or at least a part of it, might be coming even sooner than analysts predict.


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Slobodan Simic is foremost an IT enthusiast who discovered his knack for writing, which lead to becoming both an IT journalist and later an Editor for a number of publications. He has been covering anything from the consumer- and professional-oriented hardware to software markets and networks. With a focus on chasing down leads, making sure that fresh content is ready for publishing, as well as keeping up with the evergrowing and evolving IT world, writing has become more of his passion rather than just a job.