EBOOK: Intent-Based Networking for Dummies

Introduction

Digital transformation is all about applications and agility. Modern digital services are usually built from multiple applications — especially in this age of microservices — and both your staff and your network must be optimized for quickly creating and deploying new services, for changing services at the drop of a hat, and for quickly scaling applications that can experience 50 to 100 percent yearly growth.

According to a 2018 McKinsey survey, 68 percent of respondents’ objectives were digitizing the organization’s entire operating model; less than half had a more limited objective of either launching new products or services or interacting with external partners through digital channels. The same survey reported that less than 30 percent succeed, with organizations of fewer than 100 employees reporting a successful digital transformation, 2.7 times more often than organizations with more than 50,000 employees.

Research shows that digital transformation is a huge endeavor. The last thing you need is for your network to get between your innovative new services and your customers, employees, and partners.

Intent-based networking (IBN) has become a hot buzzword in the networking industry, with marketing departments at all sorts of vendors waving the “intent flag.” Some have legitimate products, some have cobbled together bits and pieces out of their product portfolios and called it an IBN solution, and some supposed IBN products perform only a part of what a real IBN system (IBNS) does.

About This Book

This book waves away the fog to provide you with a clear understanding of what IBN really is. You look at what intent means in the context of network operations and how an IBNS applies that intent to a network across its entire life cycle. You also delve into what features and characteristics an IBNS requires to fulfill its mission. You look at practical examples and testing of IBN before circling back to the benefits, just so you leave with a good feeling about the whole thing.

Chapter 1: Expressing Intent and Seeing the Basics of IBN

I ntent-based networking (IBN) is far more than just network management. The fault, configuration, accounting, performance, and security (FCAPS) management framework is all part of an IBN system (IBNS). But those aspects are just capabilities, not IBNS itself. Okay, then what is it? This chapter gives you a bit of the challenges of transformation and then tells you why IBN is beneficial to this transformation.

Looking at the Challenges of Digital Transformation

Multiple industry studies indicate that by the end of 2021, organizations will be three times more likely to fail in their digital business transformation if they don’t adjust their operational practices. But most IT organizations — around 82 percent — struggle to just keep running, leaving meager funding for innovative development.

Similarly, network architects spend more than 50 percent of their time serving as top-tier operational support when they should be focused on staying on top of technology trends and developing three- and five-year plans incorporating those trends.

Data center technologies have evolved to support digital transformation. Micro-segmentation, containerization, microservices, and service virtualization all contribute to building agile digital environments. Orchestration systems ease the operational burden, at least for storage and compute, by operating on an abstracted model of the physical systems.

And although network virtualization technologies such as Virtually Accessible LAN (VXLAN) and Ethernet VPN EVPN support highly mobile digital end systems and applications, network operations lag so far behind on the transformation curve that it often inhibits change instead of promoting it.

More often than not, a network’s operational problems spring directly from humans interfaced too close to the systems.

The human interface

Humans are slow, expensive, error prone, and inconsistent. They’re irreplaceable when interacting with systems at a level where insights are unique, but when interfaced directly to network systems via CLIs, on-the-fly scripting, or web-based configuration management tools, the systems are vulnerable to small mistakes that can have enormous costs to the business. Strong change management polices reduce error rates, but at the price of even slower change processes.

The thing is, humans are marvelously talented at pattern recognition and have mad skills at developing unexpected solutions from available data (you know, what you usually call thinking outside the box, or innovation). What humans are not good at are mundane, repetitive tasks over a long period. People get bored and make mistakes. One mistake too many and your company is on the cover of the Wall Street Journal for all the wrong reasons.

THE OPEX CHALLENGE

Once upon a time, organizations dealt with soaring operational expenses (OPEX) by reducing staff — leaving the remaining personnel to pick up the slack. But reducing operations staff when IT is vital to your business just compounds your problems. Today OPEX reduction is about reducing the time required to perform the countless individual tasks of operating a network.

The human interpreter

There’s a linear progression from business intent to a successful network process. In the middle is an essential human translation layer: the network architect. This person consumes vast amounts of coffee and meeting time, takes business intent as an input, translates that to technical intent, and outputs workable network configurations.

Just like the human interface in the operations center, the human interpreter is irreplaceable for the abstract parts of the job but is slow and error-prone at the lower task-oriented part of the job. And they’re not called network architects for nothing. The job has a distinct design element to it that, while extremely important, can drift into individual styles that introduce inconsistencies to your network.

Individualism matters if you’re Michelangelo or Miles Davis. Individualism in network design can be dangerous.