However, is intent-based networking the next big thing or but a passing phase? Will it become as widely adopted and relied upon as software-defined networking has? And what will it mean for the future of networking in an age of automation and AI? In this article, we’ll take a look at both SDN and IBN to see how the compare to each other, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they may both affect the future of networking in the 21st century. So, let’s dive straight in.
Software-defined network, or SDN, has been around for several years now and, since its initial inception, has gone from strength to strength in both its abilities and applications. Essentially, software defined networking is a method in which network administrators can manage, provision, and even break down networks without having to actually set up physical hardware, switches and network devices. SDN networks are often, but not always, found alongside network functions virtualization technologies, and the two are fairly closely related, albeit with different end goals. Software-defined networks are enabling network administrators and IT managers to customize and reconfigure their networks on the go, while also better enabling the virtualization of physical, often proprietary, hardware to cloud-based virtual machines.
While software-defined networking has proven to be quite the success among many businesses and organisations, it is not without its pitfalls. One of the biggest issues with software-defined networks is their complexity. While SDN has been one of the most hyped technological innovations of the past few years, many of the people that could potentially benefit from SDN are scratching their heads wondering how, if at all, they would manage the implementation of SDN as well as how disruptive it would be. While software-defined network solutions are becoming cheaper, they themselves would not be the only cost of either SDN-focussed reassessment of network architecture or a complete overhaul of it in preparation for software-defined networks. Many smaller businesses would struggle to justify the financial cost and operational disruption that could come with such an endeavor.
Intent-based networking is the new kid in town when it comes to networking. While its goals are somewhat similar to that of software-defined networking, Intent-based networking focuses slightly less on virtualization and more on the designing, implementing and improving the agility and availability of a network. According to Gartner, Intent-based networking systems are defined by their incorporation of four key elements; translation and validation, automated implementation, awareness of network state, and assurance and dynamic optimization/remediation. These four elements allow IBN’s to take inputs from end users, configure a design for the network based upon the intent of the end user, validate the design for correctness, implement the required network configurations and then continuously ensure that the intent of the system is being met, and make changes when necessary.
Another big factor in intent-based networking is its portability and vendor-agnostic nature. This means that applications developed for one software-defined network would be able to be easily ported to a different SDN environment without the need for the application’s original developer to be involved. The same is true for SDN controllers. This works to remove or decrease conflicts from the multiple applications sending commands to an SDN controller and also helps to give app develops better flexibility. Because IBN marries SDN to intelligence, SDN controllers are able to take the multitude of commands and express them as low-level infrastructure actions.
Network Architectures in The Future
With the kinds of advances in networking and wireless communications systems we can so clearly see today, the average network architecture in, say, five or ten years could look drastically different to the kind we are currently used to seeing. Both software-defined networking and intent-based networking share enough potential to transform the way networks are designed, implemented, and managed and with enough time and research, revolutionary new network architectures may well await us in the not too distant future. Rather than competing against one another, SDN and IBN technologies may well work best when implemented in combination with each other.
With the continued expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), more and more connected devices and equipment will require network connections. By 2020, it is estimated there will be around 50 billion connected devices, and so, network administrators will need to ensure their networks are capable of handling the enormous that has been predicted. It would seem, at this moment in time, completely feasible that both software defined networking, alongside intent-based networking, could ensure that network demands are met through their various methods, techniques, and technologies.