About a year ago, I attended a vendor briefing where the topic of intent-based networking (IBN) came up. I'd heard the term a few times before and figured it was time to display my ignorance and ask what it meant. The explanation sounded pretty woolly to me; I saved it in my marketing hogwash folder.
More recently, the IBN term reared its head again when the CEO of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Chuck Robbins, stated that the company was moving to an intent-based approach across its portfolio. (See Cisco's Next Networking Frontier: Intuitive Networks.)
So was intent-based really a new paradigm with which Cisco was "redefining the network for the next 30 years"? Or was it just the latest marketing buzzword to be misused by marketers?
Attempts by other data center/enterprise networking-focused industry analysts to define IBN sound uncannily like the closed-loop orchestration concept supporting network functions virtualization (NFV). Even the business justification for IBN is similar: Avoiding vendor lock and increasing operational efficiency through automation.
In Heavy Reading’s latest report, Intent-Based Networking: Automating Next-Generation Networks, we attempt to decipher: What IBN really is; the work that standards development organizations and the open source community are doing in this area; the different vendor approaches to IBN; and why IBN should be of interest to telecom operators, not just in the data center realm but also in wide area networking.
The report includes a communication service provider’s perspective on IBN. CenturyLink’s Enterprise Architect Kevin McBride is one of the inventors of a patent that CenturyLink filed in 2015 on Intent-Based Services Orchestration. McBride's interest in IBN was sparked when evaluating the commercial NFV orchestrators available in the market: He found they were overly reliant upon humans for placement decisions and for outage mitigation.
Intent-Based Networking: Automating Next-Generation Networks contains profiles of six vendors that position their solutions as intent-based. Undoubtedly more will follow as the term becomes more widely used and abused by marketing teams. None of the tools from IBN vendors is a magic bullet: All of them are an attempt to cut through the Gordian knot of agreeing an industry standard for IBN and, instead, present proprietary solutions. Whether the rest of the industry will sit back and allow that to happen remains to be seen. The good news for network engineers is that it doesn't look like they’ll be out of a job just yet.
— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, OSS/BSS Transformation, Heavy Reading