Intent-based networking makes it possible to manage a network simply by identifying your intent — in other words, what you want to happen.
Configure guest Wi-Fi.
Set up VoIP phones in Branch 3 office.
Software then figures out how the best way to make it happen.
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 specify, in plain English, what you want.
In a previous post, I explored why intent-based networking is the next step in network automation. Now let’s dig into the multiple advantages IBN has to offer.
- Intent-based networking is scalable
With traditional network management, your ability to scale is limited by the size of your staff. If humans have to write all the rules and configurations necessary to expand the network, growth remains slow, not to mention expensive.
In contrast, IBN lets machines handle the tasks associated with scaling up. When a computer is able to add new devices to the network or manage bandwidth and load-balancing settings in response to simple intent-based commands from humans, scalability assumes a new meaning.
- Intent-based networking is vendor-agnostic
Traditional CLI-based management requires network administrators to learn different shell languages for different vendors, as well as the various protocols that hold the network together. Keeping up with change as newer devices and protocols are rolled out is challenging.
IBN eliminates the need for deep vendor knowledge since intent is intent no matter which vendor or software package you’re dealing with. Adding a new account to a storage system with IBN is the same process whether the storage servers are bare metal, virtual, or a combination of the two.
Similarly, if you want to change the VPN configuration in order to move printers to a private network, you don’t need to know which type and version of VPN software you’re dealing with, or which vendor makes your routers.
If you work in-house in a corporate IT department, it may be easy enough to master the hardware and software in your environment. (Maybe.)
But if you’re a managed service provider responsible for managing the networks of multiple customers, delivering quality service to each client through traditional network management requires a large staff with a skill set both broad and deep. With IBN, you can manage many more networks without hiring more techs.
- Intent-based networking improves access control
In today’s large, complex networks, giving certain users access to certain devices or resources can be a tedious exercise in parsing access control lists and firewall settings.
And that sort of manual approach becomes hugely problematic when you’re trying to scale and aren’t dealing with hundreds, but thousands or even tens of thousands of users, not to mention multiple credential management systems.
With IBN, you can simply tell the management platform to block access to a customer’s finance servers for everyone except the finance department, for example. The software figures out how to do that on its own and makes the appropriate updates to the files and configurations automatically.
- Intent-based networking is more stable and secure
Humans make mistakes. (Who knew, right?) We especially make mistakes when we have to perform lots of complex, tedious tasks. When changing network configurations or updating firewall rules in the CLI, it’s easy enough to overlook something or make a fat-finger error that creates a security vulnerability or breaks the network.
Computers are more predictable. They don’t get tired or sloppy even when performing boring, redundant tasks over and over again. Plus, when configured to double-check their work or test it for flaws, they’re more conscientious about doing so than most human beings.
For these reasons, IBN mitigates the chance that something will go wrong when you’re changing the network. Taming the hydra — avoiding the creation of new problems in the course of solving old ones — ceases to be a concern.
- Intent-based networking gives you more control
You might be thinking that IBN comes at a steep price. If you let the computer do all the thinking, won’t you sacrifice control of the network?
Actually, the opposite is true. IBN maximizes your ability to control the network where it matters most.
To be sure, humans will always have a greater ability than computers to react to unexpected situations or to think outside the box. We’re not saying we’d be better off if machines were in control of everything.
But relying on software to automate certain tasks means people have more time to spend doing things computers truly can’t—such as complex fine-tuning, planning, and critical problem-solving.
- Intent-based networking allows self-service
Last but not least, IBN can help keep your customers happy and your profit margins fat by providing new self-service options. Instead of having to call you when they want to perform a basic task, clients can tell the management software what they want and have the change happen instantly.
Does HR need to give a new employee access to the network? With IBN, they can do that themselves, without special network expertise. Does your client need to configure firewall settings for a video conference that spans multiple time zones? IBN lets that happen, at any time of day or night, without the manual intervention of your staff.
That doesn’t mean IBN eliminates the need for a service provider altogether. Customers will always need service that can’t be fully automated, like responses to security vulnerabilities. IBN doesn’t diminish your importance as an MSP; it helps you deliver the greatest value at the lowest cost.
When does IBN get real?
We’re on the cusp of the IBN age as developers begin to bring intent-based technology into network management. Expect major advances in this realm in 2016.