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Three pillars of an Intent-based networking strategy

Three pillars of an Intent-based networking strategy

4 minute read
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Three pillars of an Intent-based networking strategy
Updated: December 14, 2023
February 9, 2023
Updated: December 14, 2023
4 mins

In any large enterprise, the network is central to delivering key service offerings. Modern enterprises understand this, and focus has necessarily shifted from a reactive network approach to proactive network orchestration with intent as the leader. Foregrounding the desired state of the network, which mirrors business objectives, and automating network operations to bring you closer to the desired state with every decision, is a natural progression from software-defined networking approaches that attempt this on the device level. Termed intent-based networking, enterprises are looking to this strategy to ensure that their network actively supports their business goals.

Decision-makers need to evaluate how each tool they implement contributes toward this. As enterprise networking toolsets quickly become sprawling, prioritizing the essentials for a complete intent-based network strategy can become confusing. Dissecting successful implementations of this reveal that there are three pillars of intent-based networking that enterprises should focus on:

  • Source(s) of Truth Repository (Intent)
  • Automated Workflows (Fulfilment)
  • Validation of the actual network state (Assurance)

Whether homegrown, commercial products or a combination, you must ensure these elements are well-integrated to support seamless intent-driven processes.

Intent

It goes without saying that any successful attempt at IBN requires a clearly-defined intent. As mentioned, you can define your intent by translating enterprise business goals into an idealized network state, formed by assessing what network objectives would support this.

Device hostnames and code versions, IP addressing information, device configuration, credentials - typically, you can find this across a range of disparate sources across your organization. You may have an IPAM, a CMDB for the configuration of devices, spreadsheets, and more, but for an effective IBN strategy, you need one consolidated repository for your source(s) of truth to act as the network intent.

Without managing intent from one place, you're immediately compromising any manual attempt at a source of truth for network intent. You're vulnerable to inconsistencies, human error, forgetfulness, or unintended changes to your intent.

The role of the intent within the IBN network process is to provide the expected end result of any automation you have in place - to automatically instruct what network action should take place, moving the actual network state closer to the desired intent.

A great example of an excellent, open-source tool for consolidating disparate network sources of truth in one place is NetBox - check out how to synchronize your IP Fabric data with NetBox.

Fulfillment

The actual implementation of your desired state in the network - fulfillment of intent - most ideally happens through automated network workflows and changes. There are different approaches to building an automated network, each with pitfalls, but it's sure to say that knowing where to start with automation can be the biggest challenge for enterprise networking teams if they don't have a complete network baseline.

One of the first decisions an enterprise will make is whether to build automation in-house or leverage the low-code vendor options available.

While having an in-house solution using Ansible or Python is highly flexible - after all, it's designed exactly to your needs - it can also take quite some time to see the value from resource-intensive, home-grown approaches. Once built, of course, solutions must be maintained, potentially introducing overhead antithetical to the goal of network automation.

Low-code commercial solutions mean you can hit the ground running with automation, but note that their vendor support may be limited and the function-specific nature of pre-built automation may not serve your purposes.

Assurance

Network Assurance is the discovery, standardization, and visualization of the following network data across environments and vendors:

  1. Inventory
  2. Config
  3. State
  4. Topology
  5. Behavior end-to-end

The role of network assurance within an IBN process is to continuously validate the state of the actual network to ensure it aligns with intent post automated change.

When listed in an order of sorts, Network Assurance can be seen as the last step in an IBN process, as functionally, it validates changes after the fact, providing essential feedback to the operator. In practice, however, it underpins both Intent and Fulfillment, providing essential network data for each element to perform its own function. At IP Fabric, we've helped customers who sat with an expensive automation solution for months, unable to use it for lack of a true understanding of what was in their current network.

In sum, it can be said that any IBN approach is incomplete without all three of these elements:

  • Without Intent, you won’t know where you’re going, or what your network should look like.
  • Without Automation, you won’t have the manual resources required to implement your ideal state.
  • Without Network Assurance, you won’t know where you’re coming from. You won’t be able to validate whether automated changes had the desired effect (brought you close to intent) or whether changes impacted the network further afield.

When all three of these elements are successfully integrated, the result is a closed-loop automation process that works to support enterprise goals automatically.

To find out how you can leverage Network Assurance to optimize your own automation strategies and support your enterprise goals, request a demo here. Follow us on our LinkedIn, and on our blog, where we publish new content regularly.

Three pillars of an Intent-based networking strategy

In any large enterprise, the network is central to delivering key service offerings. Modern enterprises understand this, and focus has necessarily shifted from a reactive network approach to proactive network orchestration with intent as the leader. Foregrounding the desired state of the network, which mirrors business objectives, and automating network operations to bring you closer to the desired state with every decision, is a natural progression from software-defined networking approaches that attempt this on the device level. Termed intent-based networking, enterprises are looking to this strategy to ensure that their network actively supports their business goals.

Decision-makers need to evaluate how each tool they implement contributes toward this. As enterprise networking toolsets quickly become sprawling, prioritizing the essentials for a complete intent-based network strategy can become confusing. Dissecting successful implementations of this reveal that there are three pillars of intent-based networking that enterprises should focus on:

  • Source(s) of Truth Repository (Intent)
  • Automated Workflows (Fulfilment)
  • Validation of the actual network state (Assurance)

Whether homegrown, commercial products or a combination, you must ensure these elements are well-integrated to support seamless intent-driven processes.

Intent

It goes without saying that any successful attempt at IBN requires a clearly-defined intent. As mentioned, you can define your intent by translating enterprise business goals into an idealized network state, formed by assessing what network objectives would support this.

Device hostnames and code versions, IP addressing information, device configuration, credentials - typically, you can find this across a range of disparate sources across your organization. You may have an IPAM, a CMDB for the configuration of devices, spreadsheets, and more, but for an effective IBN strategy, you need one consolidated repository for your source(s) of truth to act as the network intent.

Without managing intent from one place, you're immediately compromising any manual attempt at a source of truth for network intent. You're vulnerable to inconsistencies, human error, forgetfulness, or unintended changes to your intent.

The role of the intent within the IBN network process is to provide the expected end result of any automation you have in place - to automatically instruct what network action should take place, moving the actual network state closer to the desired intent.

A great example of an excellent, open-source tool for consolidating disparate network sources of truth in one place is NetBox - check out how to synchronize your IP Fabric data with NetBox.

Fulfillment

The actual implementation of your desired state in the network - fulfillment of intent - most ideally happens through automated network workflows and changes. There are different approaches to building an automated network, each with pitfalls, but it's sure to say that knowing where to start with automation can be the biggest challenge for enterprise networking teams if they don't have a complete network baseline.

One of the first decisions an enterprise will make is whether to build automation in-house or leverage the low-code vendor options available.

While having an in-house solution using Ansible or Python is highly flexible - after all, it's designed exactly to your needs - it can also take quite some time to see the value from resource-intensive, home-grown approaches. Once built, of course, solutions must be maintained, potentially introducing overhead antithetical to the goal of network automation.

Low-code commercial solutions mean you can hit the ground running with automation, but note that their vendor support may be limited and the function-specific nature of pre-built automation may not serve your purposes.

Assurance

Network Assurance is the discovery, standardization, and visualization of the following network data across environments and vendors:

  1. Inventory
  2. Config
  3. State
  4. Topology
  5. Behavior end-to-end

The role of network assurance within an IBN process is to continuously validate the state of the actual network to ensure it aligns with intent post automated change.

When listed in an order of sorts, Network Assurance can be seen as the last step in an IBN process, as functionally, it validates changes after the fact, providing essential feedback to the operator. In practice, however, it underpins both Intent and Fulfillment, providing essential network data for each element to perform its own function. At IP Fabric, we've helped customers who sat with an expensive automation solution for months, unable to use it for lack of a true understanding of what was in their current network.

In sum, it can be said that any IBN approach is incomplete without all three of these elements:

  • Without Intent, you won’t know where you’re going, or what your network should look like.
  • Without Automation, you won’t have the manual resources required to implement your ideal state.
  • Without Network Assurance, you won’t know where you’re coming from. You won’t be able to validate whether automated changes had the desired effect (brought you close to intent) or whether changes impacted the network further afield.

When all three of these elements are successfully integrated, the result is a closed-loop automation process that works to support enterprise goals automatically.

To find out how you can leverage Network Assurance to optimize your own automation strategies and support your enterprise goals, request a demo here. Follow us on our LinkedIn, and on our blog, where we publish new content regularly.

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