Wouldn’t it be great if managing a network were like ordering a pizza? Decide what you want, make a phone call (or visit a website), and place your order — done.
Figuring out how to fill the order wouldn’t be your responsibility. The pizza shop would decide how much to knead the dough and how long to bake the pie. The delivery guy would determine on his own how to get to your house.
In other words, everything would be handled for you. But, of course, network management is very different from ordering pizza.
Artificial intelligence pioneer Marvin Minskey pointed out back in 1982 that most people cling to the idea that “machines will never really think.” We tend to believe computers are good at performing specific tasks in response to instructions from humans, but not at coming up with creative solutions to problems.
So the traditional approach to network management has been to log into a CLI and tell the system, command by tedious command, how to complete each of the tasks necessary to produce a desired outcome.
Want to add a new server to the network? Get ready to edit configuration files, set new firewall rules, and update your backup scripts.
Need to give a new hire access to her department’s file share? Open your access control system, create a new entry, and configure the right permission flags.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to keep accepting the traditional paradigm.
Intent-based networking: The next step in automated network operations
It’s time to look seriously at intent-based networking (IBN). IBN is network management that lets you identify your intent — what you want to happen — and makes software figure out the best way to achieve it.
With IBN, you don’t have to be an expert in various CLI languages. You don’t even need to know a lot about how the network is configured. All you have to do is identify, in plain English, what you want. It’s the next natural step in the evolution of network automation.
Already, for example, you can see details about the network, configuration files, and individual devices on demand, without telling your management console how to collect that information.
Software can map the network in a single click. You don’t need to know how to execute Nmap from the CLI with a string of command-line arguments to get that topology.
You don’t need to run a packet sniffer to monitor bandwidth between devices or track network load. Just identify the information you want to see, and software delivers it. All the dirty work is kept under the hood.
IBN extends the same capability you currently have to automatically see things on the network to automatically do things on the network.
Just last week, Cisco released two products that will extend intent-based networks from the LAN to the WAN. In 2017, the network giant first made public its IBN initiative, and the company recently stated that assurance software is its second wave of IBN.
Safe to say, if Cisco’s on board, IBN is going mainstream. And, with other companies working on similar intent-based initiatives, it’s only a matter of time until IBN forever changes the working reality of managing networks.