What is Intent-Based Networking?

What Is Intent-Based Networking?

Intent-based networking is a software-enabled automation process that uses high levels of intelligence, analytics, and orchestration to improve network operations and uptime. When operators describe the business outcomes they wish to accomplish, the network converts those objectives into the configuration necessary to achieve them, without individual tasks having to be coded and executed manually.

For example, consider the need for secure communications between two networks. An intent would broadly state that a secure tunnel is needed between Network A and Network B. An operator would identify which traffic should use the tunnel and describe any other desired general properties of the tunnel. But the operator wouldn’t specify how the tunnel is to be implemented, such as the number of devices to be used, how BGP advertisements should be made, or which specific features and parameters to turn on.

Instead, an intent-based networking system automatically generates a full configuration of all devices based on the service description. It then provides ongoing assurance checks between the intended and operational state of the network, using closed-loop validation to continuously verify the correctness of the configuration.

Intent-based networking is a declarative network operation model. It contrasts with traditional imperative networking, which requires network engineers to specify the sequence of actions needed on individual network elements and creates significant potential for error.


What Problems Does Intent-Based Networking Solve?

Traditionally, networking has been driven by manual, command-line interface (CLI)-based operations, basic element management systems (EMSs), or automation scripts. Most network outages result from human errors that occur during these network operations.

Intent-based networking slashes errors and risk while improving operational efficiencies in a number of ways.

  • Validates intent objects before applying them to the network. Intent objects are high-level representations of the desired properties or outcomes to be achieved with the network. Validation is syntactic and includes semantic checks against networkwide policy.
  • Instantaneous roll-back or roll-forward. Operators simply apply the appropriate versioned intent object to return to a known good state if something goes wrong during a deployment push.
  • Limits the impact and scope of failures during new intent rollout through well-defined policy.
  • Intent-based fallback. As the system knows the desired outcomes for a specific configuration, it can maintain those outcomes even in the face of outages or device errors by reconfiguring other network elements or using different mechanisms to achieve the same results.

Modern network orchestration systems have made commercial, intent-based network systems for mission-critical and scaled deployments possible. Intent-based networks dramatically reduce the time to deliver reliable services from days or weeks to minutes and help address operational challenges once the infrastructure has been deployed.


Evolving to Intent-Based Networking

While intent-based networking is not a new concept, most companies are still somewhere on the evolutionary path toward achieving it.

what is intent-based networking - diagram 1

Each stage along the way is characterized by increasingly automated and simpler ways of deploying and managing network operations.

  • Manual – Operations staff imperatively manage data center network devices using CLI, SNMP, and basic and discrete tools.
  • Semiautomated – Scripts and rules-based management combine with traditional tools for basic automation, visibility into network data, and alerts that enable reaction to network events.
  • Software-defined data center – A software abstraction of the network infrastructure enables faster, secure deployment of services and applications.
  • Automation-centric data center – Builds upon the software-defined data center by automating provisioning, configuration, deployment, and orchestration.
  • Intent-based data center – Continually collects and converts all pertinent data needed to take the automated actions that keep the network aligned with dynamic business intent, data center conditions, and policies.


Intent-Based Analytics

Intent-based networking is not only about intent fulfillment; it’s also about intent assurance. With intent-based analytics, networks remain in compliance with the original business intent throughout the service lifecycle. Intent-based analytics provide insights into network services, enabling teams to think about their network as a complete service.

Using analytics, intent-based networking enables faster root-cause identification when things go awry. It informs operators of conditions and insights that need attention as with traditional unified management approaches but filters out the irrelevant “noise” so it’s easier to see what’s most important quickly.

what is intent-based networking - diagram 2

Analytics keep network operations aligned with original business intent throughout the service lifecycle.


Juniper Implementation

Intent-based networking requires a sophisticated network orchestration system capable of making complex decisions. Juniper Apstra System delivers intent-based networking and analytics as a unified solution that simplifies the design, build, deployment, and operation of data center networks while continuously validating that the network remains aligned with desired business outcomes. The solution unifies the network architecture and operations teams, eliminating human capital constraints and reliability issues while introducing flexibility and accelerating deployment and activation.


Intent-based networking FAQs

What problems does intent-based networking solve?

It significantly reduces network risk by eliminating human error. It also enables operational efficiency by eliminating manual, CLI-driven operations.


How is intent-based networking implemented?

It basically separates the “what” from the “how.” Operators describe the desired state of the network and an orchestration system takes care of creating and maintaining a network configuration that meets those goals. A business “intent” is typically entered by an operator into a GUI or through an API and then interpreted by the intent-based networking solution, which configures the network accordingly to fulfill the stated goal.

How are SDN and intent-based networking related?

Software-defined networking (SDN) centers around separating the network's control and data planes. Intent-based networking centers around eliminating the complexity of manual device configuration and replacing it with an abstracted, automated orchestration platform. A management platform that offers SDN capabilities can use an intent-based networking solution for provisioning and management.