While the idea of intent-based networks has been percolating for years, its current status is still slightly ambiguous.

Intent-based networking (IBN) is a network architecture where organizations tell their network what they want instead of specifically detailing what the network should do. IBN uses automation and orchestration to change how network configurations are deployed. It incorporates machine learning and AI to automate administrative tasks across a network, and its goal is to create fully self-managing networks.

However, intent-based networks may still be a dream for the future rather than something that is obtainable today. This compilation of expert insights explores the original ideas of what intent-based networks are, the differences between it and other network architectures, and answers to other common IBN questions.

Have intent-based networks created more questions than answers?

Since it rose to popularity after the Cisco Partner Summit 2017, IBN has been lauded as a new way to use existing technologies and tools. Part of IBN’s appeal is it seems less complex than a completely newfangled product. It also doesn’t require engineers to become all-out programmers — instead, they would need to better understand business policies and the requirements of the network.

However, intent-based networks lack standards and require a strong foundation of APIs to fuel development. Concepts such as AI and machine learning could also create some obstacles in the adoption process, and an overall deployment isn’t simple. Also, all aspects of the intent-based network have to be verified and validated to fully establish intent.

Read more about the confusion around IBN.

What happens behind the scenes of IBN?

Confusion around IBN comes back to a simple question: How does it work? Andrew Lerner, research vice president at Gartner, said IBN’s immaturity obscures some of its potential and differentiating factors, such as continuous validation that the network is functioning as it should after the initial input of intent.

Intent-based networks offer more than just provisioning and automation capabilities. IBN uses mathematical formulas and advanced analytics — in addition to automation and orchestration — to pull metadata and apply it to an abstraction model that enables the IBN system to monitor the network. The self-healing and automated capabilities of IBN make it an auspicious architecture despite its youthfulness.

See more of how IBN works behind the scenes.

Why would an organization move to IBN?

The benefits of IBN include easier network management, fewer performance issues and reduced organizational risk. Yet networks teams are wary of automation because it takes them out of their comfort zones. This wariness can impede the transition to IBN, according to John Burke, CIO and principal research analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill.

IBN allows engineers to deal with networks at a higher level and in terms of desired behaviors. While IBN is still an adjustment for engineers, chances are they will find familiar concepts if they give it a chance. IBN uses centralized management, and it can define policies and related components centrally and enforce them throughout the network globally.

Learn more about how IBN affects network staff.

How do IBN and SDN differ?

IBN and software-defined networking (SDN) are often compared because of their similarities, which can leave people wondering if they differ at all. And they do differ, according to independent analyst John Fruehe. The main difference between intent-based networks and software-defined networks is how they use abstraction in commands.

IBN is abstracted at a higher level than SDN, and it has more of a business-centric focus. IBN commands should match business intentions. On the other hand, SDN commands are more device-centric and focus on how devices should operate. Both architectures rely on central controllers to manage their devices.

Explore more of the differences between SDN and IBN.

Where do intent-based networks stand in 2019?

As of 2019, intent-based networks still seem far from the finish line. Yet Andrew Froehlich, president of West Gate Networks in Loveland, Colo., said he still believes enterprises should care about the IBN options available to them. Learning more about these options now can benefit enterprises planning for future deployments.

According to Froehlich, IBN looks at networks from a different perspective than traditional networking. IBN monitors specific data flows that are necessary to the business so the network can fully understand the importance of mission-critical applications. Some approaches include data analytics, segmentation, IBN in the WAN and IBN in the data center.

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