Intent-Based Networking and its Effect on SDN and Automation


Over the past few years, networking and its associated technologies have seen something of a transformation, thanks in part to developments within wireless communications tech, automation and the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the most exciting developments to come out of this period in networking development is Intent-based networking and industry experts and networking gurus are both understandably excited about it.

Intent-based networking has amassed a large amount of excitement and debate around it largely due to its potential alongside both software-defined networking (SDN) and network automation and experts initially had mixed opinions with regards to its role within SDN networks.

While originally seen as a competitor to software-defined networking, it is now currently accepted that, in order to see the best of both technologies, both intent-based and software-defined networking may well be better off working in collaboration with one another.

In this article, we’ll be looking at what intent-based networking is, how it works, and the effect it could have on both software-defined networking and automation. To start us off we’ll take a look at what intent-based networking is and how it works.

So, let’s jump straight in.

What is Intent-Based Networking?

Intent-based networking is a method used to enhance and improve the process of both designing and implementing a network, as well as increase its agility and availability. This is achieved through the understanding of a business’ intent and then interpreting that into network configurations that are best suited for that specific business intent.

Obviously, this requires an understanding of how best to programme business intent into a network, however, by taking the time to do so, various organisations and enterprises around the world are benefiting from intent-based networking.

According to Gartner, there are intent-based networks incorporate the following four elements in order to be classified as such. These elements are as follows; translation and validation, automated implementation, awareness of network state, and assurance and dynamic optimization.

Translation and validation elements allow the IBN to translate commands from network administrators regarding the intent of their networks and then verifies that these can be performed. Automated implementation works towards leveraging the appropriate network resources to implement the desired policies and enforce them.

Awareness of state includes the continuous gathering and monitoring of data relevant to the state of the network. Assurance and dynamic optimization works to ensure that the state of the network is maintained and can take action to keep it as such.


Both intent-based networking and software-based networking share similar objectives, however, they are different in a number of ways that it is important to know in order to distinguish them apart.

Virtualization and a drive for reduced costs and improve network programmability and automation have brought SDN into the mainstream for many businesses and organisations looking to begin to implement network functions virtualization (NFV) through the use of Software-defined solutions such as SD-WAN and SD-Security.

With intent-based networks, their implementation can include the use of an SDN controller in order to carry out and implement the desired network policies based on business intent.

Intent-based networking is also incredibly portable, and its vendor-agnostic nature allows for applications developed for one software-defined network can be quite easily ported to a different SDN environment so as to further increase vendor flexibility within the network. The same is also true for SDN controllers.

Intent-based networking is also being looked to in hopes of it bringing intelligence to software-defined networking.

As machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and virtualization continue to transform every industry and process they touch, it seems likely that both intent-based and software defined networking approaches will become intertwined as these technologies mature.

IBN and Automation

Within networking, keeping up with the growth of IT network operations can be a tough and costly challenge. According to Cisco, up to 95% of network changes are still made manually, meaning a huge amount of effort is still going in to ensuring the right network set up and configuration.

This can also mean that operational costs associated with these challenges can be two three times higher than the cost of the network itself. This is not a sustainable way of implementing change in a modern-day networking environment and is but one of the reasons why network function automation has become so popular over the last few years.

Automated intent-based networks can help to improve the efficiency and accuracy of threat detection and containment operations, as well as automate compliance policies so as to ensure that companies are able to stay compliant regardless of any changes or alterations made to the network.

Automating intent-based networks can also help provide increased interoperability and allows them to treat networks as single entities, rather than collections of switches and devices, therefore further streamlining routine network tasks so as to further strengthen automation.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence will also help to push automation further into the future of intent-based networking. By integrating systems that are capable of learning through experience, intent-based networks could go on to be further enhanced by real-time data sharing and threat awareness to name but a few.

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