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.