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What is the relationship between intent-based networking and SDN?

SDN and intent-based networking share more in common than hype about their promises and potential. Our expert weighs in on how the two technologies aim to improve automation.

Intent-based networking is the newest concept that promises to revolutionize the networking industry. SDN and intent-based...

networking share similarities, as IBN extends SDN concepts to improve network automation and abstract complexity, which includes capabilities like reducing manual network programming.

SDN was introduced six or seven years ago as a way to logically separate network hardware and software, and as the means to provide network programmability, improve automation and reduce costs. The concept of SDN is now mainstream in the data center and the WAN -- in the form of software-defined WAN. It has moved the focus of network innovation to software, rather than proprietary hardware. While some leading hyperscale cloud providers, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, have deployed SDN to program their networks and radically reduce costs, SDN has had a relatively limited effect in terms of automating networking operations.

Moving to intent-based networking

According to Gartner, 75% of organizations still manage their networks manually, and many continue to use command-line interfaces. Intent-based networking abstracts network complexity and improves automation by eliminating manual configurations. It allows a user or administrator to send a simple request -- using natural language -- to the physical network. For example, an IT administrator can request improved voice quality for its voice-over-IP application, and the network can respond.

Like SDN before it, IBN and its promises are not yet a technological reality.

SDN and intent-based networking dovetail with each other, because IBN implementation may include the use of an SDN controller that can carry out the desired policies and intent. Current versions of IBN can automate operations like IP address settings and configuring virtual LANs, and it can analyze network traffic to detect threats and provide clues about how to troubleshoot network issues. Intent-based networking should allow organizations to rapidly deploy and scale new data center network resources.

Future IBN advances will be able to detect and automatically resolve network challenges, like security anomalies and network slowdowns. Implementation of open APIs in IBN will allow for better multivendor integration and enable advanced users to more easily program the network.

IBN challenges

Both SDN and intent-based networking offer compelling promises. But like SDN before it, IBN and its promises are not yet a technological reality. Suppliers like Cisco have started to deliver on the journey toward IBN. Standards organizations like OpenDaylight need to add IBN awareness to their standards-based SDN controllers. IT organizations still face the challenging decision as to whether they should base their data center, campus network or WAN on one vendor, or work with a number of innovative startups -- or open source code -- to abstract their physical network.

Suppliers to watch

As with all new hot marketing terms, networking suppliers are rushing to describe their products as intent-based networking. Cisco recently announced ambitious plans to enhance its products with improved automation via its Digital Network Architecture and Catalyst 9000 switches. Smaller suppliers innovating around the concept of intent-based networking include Apstra, Gluware, Plexxi, Veriflow, Forward Networks and VeloCloud.

This was last published in December 2017

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How do you think SDN technology can benefit intent-based networking?
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Actually, Veriflow isn't "rushing to describe their product as intent-based networking".  Veriflow was developed years ago and has always referred to their platform as IBN which is I suppose the reason they received that Gartner gave Dr Godfrey and his team the "Cool Vendor - Enterprise Networks" award, as their patented formal verification algorithm for networks was unprecedented by anyone. Seems like everyone else just hitched their wagon to a star.  
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There's a lot of myth and hype around IBN. Reminds me of SDN in 2013 and 2014 where it was overhyped beyond what then-current implementations could deliver, with constantly changing definitions and competing standards and protocols. Major vendors all but killed off SDN with not only vendor-specific visions, but one that didn't even support their prior installed base. And seem to be going down that same path with IBN. IBN will deliver on many of the limitations that SDN encountered, but nobody has deployed the vision like Gartner has defined yet. What's really possible today? And how does it fit with existing networks? The devil is in the details if you are really going to benefit IT processes and automate workflows. Prospective customers should take a long look at the IBN suppliers listed and ask what deployments they really have today and for testimonials of what benefits can be realized on existing networks and applications to avoid getting caught in the hype. One vendor is starting to stand out from the rest and it isn't last year's cool vendor.
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