Intent-Based Networking Surges Forward

Cisco has placed IBN front-and-center in its overall strategy, betting big on the attractiveness of a smarter way to run a network

Cheriton’s company, Apstra, is one of several startups who are pushing IBN to the forefront lately, along with Veriflow, Intentionet, Forward Networks, and others. The buzz for IBN ratcheted up earlier this year when Cisco and Juniper jumped on board with the technology, with other large network equipment vendors dipping their toes in the intent-based waters as well.

And to Cheriton’s point, there has certainly been a delay in not only IBN, but a wide array of other strategic planning elements on the network side. After all, the network folks are given the unenviable task of keeping one of the most complex technical achievements in the history of mankind up and running. It’s not easy to rebuild a jetliner that you can never land.

In fact, I wrote that line about the jetliner before I noticed a supporting quote in Cisco’s June announcement of its IBN work by the CIO of Royal Carribean Cruises, so I guess the massive-transportation analogy is apt in a number of ways. “From a technology standpoint, our cruise ships are like small cities,” said Royal Caribbean CIO Michael Giresi. “Cisco's intent-based networking is transformational in how our IT can securely and remotely provision cruise ships around the world."

Cisco has placed IBN front-and-center in its overall strategy, betting big on the attractiveness of a smarter way to run a network. And it’s likely a good bet, as Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy pointed out in an editorial in Forbes over the summer. Legacy networks are a big inhibitor to progress, as they’re unwieldy and slow-to-change.

Cisco promises that its new IBN efforts will bring “intent, context and intuition,” all of which will put Cisco in a position to leverage its untold wealth of data and network insight to work in a way that will allow networks to keep up with demand. And the fact that giants like Cisco and Juniper are being proactive suggests a very different—but equally important—kind of intent: the willingness of equipment vendors and, ultimately, CSPs to get on board with rolling out networks that are as smart as they could be.

So far, CSPs have been pretty quiet about their willingness to embrace IBN. Verizon mentioned intent-based networking in a reference architecture last year [PDF], but hasn’t made any large announcements since. Verizon, Century Link, and others have gotten on board with Cisco’s SD-WAN and software analytics offerings, though, so an embrace of IBN now that the bigger players have gotten on board would be unsurprising.

IBN—along with automation frameworks, SDN, machine learning, and a wide variety of other technologies—can and should be seen as yet another way post in the move toward autonomous networks. It’s a long journey, but as Juniper CTO Kireeti Kompella told ComputerWeekly, “It took 10 years for self-driving cars to advance from vision to prototype. I don’t expect an autonomous, self-driving network to take this long.”

In the coming year, we expect to hear a lot more about intent-based networking from hardware and software vendors, as well as the carriers they serve.


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