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Machine Learning is entangling the world in the web of smart, intelligent and automated algorithms. The next bug caught in the mesh is Networking. The paradigm of network management is all set to take a pretty big shift with machine learning sprinkled networks. Termed as Intent-based network, it is a network management system focussed on improving network availability and agility through means of automation.  

Exploring an Intent-based Network

Essentially, an Intent-based networking software (IBNS), like any other networking solution helps to plan, plot, execute, and operate networks. A distinguishable fact is, that the intent based network can translate the “intent” of a user. The user may be the end-user or the network administrator. The “intent” may be through a series of commands or through APIs. How does it work?— a network admin describes the state of a network, or the policy they want a network to follow, the IBNS validates whether such a request is feasible and then executes it.

The second differentiating feature of an IBNS is the ability to perform automated implementation of the network state and policies described above. They can also control the security level to be applied to applications based on user role, time, and device conditions. Additionally, the vLANs, mandate firewalls and other network technologies required within the network can be automated in an IBNS.  

An IBNS can monitor a network in real-time and take necessary actions to assess and improve the network. The ultimate goal of an IBNS is, to ensure that the desired condition of a network is maintained while making sure an automated reparative action is taken in case of any discrepancy.

Why networks need machine learning to create intent?

Traditional Networks cannot be integrated into networking environments after a certain number of layers. They require manual integration which can be a daunting process demanding advanced skill-set. Traditional network systems are also prone to failover and capacity augment as they involve managing individual devices. This resulted in developing a new set of centrally globalized network system, controlled from one place that permeates through the network. Machine learning was considered a possible contender for aiding the development of such networks and hence IBNS came to be.

The idea of IBNS was proposed long ago, but requirements for developing such a system were not available.  In the recent times, advances in ML have made it possible to develop such a system which can automate tasks. By automation we mean, automating the entire network policy when the network administrator simply defines the desired state of the network.  

With the presence of ML, IBNS can do real time analysis of network conditions, which  involves monitoring, identifying and reacting to real time data using algorithmic validations.

Why IBNS could be the future of networking?

Central control system

The intent based network uses a central, cloud based control system to program the routes to be taken by the network elements to deliver required information. The control system can also reprogram them in case of a network path failure.

Automation of network elements

Intent Based networks are all about reducing human efforts. A network is built on millions of connected devices. Managing a huge number of devices will require a lot of manpower. Also, the current networking system will have difficulty in managing enormous amount of data exploding from IoT devices. With an IBNS, human intervention required to build these network elements across services and circuits is reduced by a considerable amount. IBNS provides an automated network management system which mathematically validates the desired state of networks as specified by network administrators.

Real-time decision making

The network systems continuously gather information about the network architecture while adapting themselves to the desired condition. If a network is congested at a particular time frame, it can modify the route. For example, the GPS system can re-route a driver if he/she encounters some sort of traffic jam or a closed lane.  IBNS can also gather information about the current status of the network by consistent ingestion of real-time state pointers in the networking system. The real time data, so gathered can in turn make it smarter and more predictive.  

Business benefits gained

Intent-based software will open better opportunities for IT employees.  Due to elimination of mundane operational tasks, IT admins can increase their productivity levels while improving their skill set. For an organization, it would mean lower cost of operation, reduced fallacy, better reliability & security, resource management, increased optimization, and multi-vendor device management.

What do we see around the globe in the IBNS domain?

The rising potential of IBNS is giving startups and MNCs higher opportunities to invest in this technology.  

Apstra have launched their Apstra Operating system which provides deployment of an IBN system to a variety of customers including Cisco, Arista, Juniper, and other white box users. The solution focuses on a single data center. It prevents and repairs network outages to improve infrastructure agility. The AOS also provides network admins full transparency to intent with the ability to ask any question about the network, amend any aspect of the intent after deployment, while allowing complete freedom for users to perform customizations of the AOS.

Anuta networks, the pioneer in Network service orchestration have announced their award winning NCX intent-based orchestration platform to automate network services, which has enabled DevOps for networking. They provide more than 35 industry leading vendors with orchestrated devices. They also own detailed and exhaustive REST API for network integration.

One of the top pioneers in the networking domain, Cisco has launched itself in the intent-based networking space with the solutionSoftware Defined Access (SDA).  The software enables easy to perform operational tasks and build powerful networks by automating the network. It also boasts of features like:

  • Multi-site management
  • Improved visibility with simple topological views
  • Integration with Kubernetes
  • Zero -trust security

With tech-innovation taking place all around, networking organizations are racing towards breaking the clutter by bringing their intent based networks to the networking space.

According to Gartner analyst, Andrew Lerner,

Intent-based networking is nascent, but could be the next big thing in networking, as it promises to improve network availability and agility, which are key, as organizations transition to digital business. I&O leaders responsible for networking need to determine if and when to pilot this technology.

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