Sean Kaine, VP of Product and Marketing, Apcela

The start of a new year and a new decade is a natural time to predict what the future holds, and 2020 marks a perfect point at which to take stock of where networking technology is going. That future could include intent-based networking, according to many observers.

A future where networks run autonomously is a long-held vision, and industry analysts say that enterprise customers are somewhat closer to that goal. Gartner had a hand in naming that vision, calling it intent-based networking systems (IBNS) back in 2017.

At a high level, IBNS makes it easier to automatically turn a goal for the business (turn on a new digital service and generate revenue, for example) into the corresponding set of network configurations. In short, intent-based network systems hold the promise of finally meeting enterprise needs for self-configuring and self-optimizing networks.

There are several core characteristics of intent-based networking systems, according to Gartner Research Vice President Andrew Lerner. They are:

  • Translating and Validating
  • Automated Implementation
  • Awareness of Network State
  • Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation

A deeper look into the definition of IBNS is available in a white paper, “Intent-Based Networking: Building on the Power of the API,” published by Apcela. In the report, we also provide a look at some of the trends driving interest in these systems, and their benefits.

Benefits include:

  • Agility – This is a key benefit that better matches networking services with the scale-up and scale-out cloud deployment models developers currently enjoy.
  • Security/risk reduction – Real-time monitoring enables continuous scanning for abnormal requests or access patterns and the ability to automatically react by denying access to services.
  • Cost Efficiency – Lowering operating costs related to network management is a significant benefit but policies can also be used to automatically ensure application performance if a network link becomes saturated, for example.

Speaking of security, how does intent-based networking relate to SASE, which is another newer term being used in the network services arena? SASE, as we previously blogged, stands for “secure access service edge.” It is Gartner’s name for a combination of SD-WAN capabilities with a number of security services (including secure web gateway (SWG), cloud access security broker (CASB), and cloud-based firewall) that are primarily delivered through a cloud-based delivery model. Intent-based networking is a higher order system that implements policies across networks and devices; SASE can be viewed as a component in that IBN system that is configured and managed by the IBN.

After hearing promises of networking nirvana for so many years, have we finally arrived? Not quite. IBNS (as well as SASE) are aspirational goals – an idealized end state. Where Gartner once forecast thousands of deployments of IBNS by the start of this decade, they are now predicting only hundreds of deployments. That being said, we are getting closer. Advances in compute power, storage capacity, and data management have aligned with developments in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to bring these promises closer to fruition than ever before.

The key takeaway is this: while fully functional intent-based networking systems are only in the early stages of market development, enterprises can lay a solid foundation for the future. How? By implementing SD-WAN technology.

SD-WAN is based upon many of the fundamental requirements for IBN, including:

  • Leveraging APIs and network data for configuration and control of services
  • Ability to segment domains for performance and security needs
  • Leverage policy orchestration capabilities across transport network types (MPLS, Internet, Wi-Fi, LTE, etc.)
  • Real-time analytics and optimization capabilities

With careful planning and tactical trials today, enterprises can leverage existing investments in SD-WAN to lay the groundwork for the self-driving networking service of the future.

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