LAS VEGAS — Momentum appears to be growing around intent-based networking even if there isn’t a clear definition.
At VMware’s Future:Net 2017 conference last week, executives from Apstra, Veriflow, and Forward Networks attempted to provide some clarity to the concept of intent-based networking, which at a high-level means that the network operators just have to tell the network how they want it to run and it will comply.
Intent-based networking isn’t a new concept. Network engineers have been talking about it for a number of years. But the concept gained traction in June when Cisco made several intent-based networking announcements.
Apstra is one of the companies at the forefront of this concept. David Cheriton, founder and chief scientist at Apstra, told Future:Net attendees that intent-based networking will basically liberate network operators to focus on other things because it eliminates many of the manual programming tasks that currently require a lot of manpower.
“Intent allows verification to be automatically generated and checked,” Cheriton said. He noted that often network managers get locked into doing a lot of manual programming with scripts and templates that are vendor specific. Instead, he proposed that the industry have a “network operating system that operates the network,” which is what Apstra is attempting to do.
Earlier this year the company released its new Apstra Operating System 1.2 that allows users to customize every aspect of it, including the intent model, tracked telemetry, and vendor-specific device agents.
Of course key to intent-based networking is network verification. According to Brighten Godfrey, co-founder and CTO of Veriflow, network verification satisfies network intent by providing an abstraction of the network and conducting checks to make sure the network is operating properly. “You need to understand the network and know what is out there,” he said. “Then you can verify business intent and build a model that can predict network-wide behavior.”
Just Another Buzzword?
But not everyone is sold on intent-based networking. When asked by an audience member during the panel discussion whether intent-based networking is just a fancy word for software-defined networking (SDN), Brandon Heller, CTO and co-founder of Forward Networks admitted that while some elements are reminiscent of SDN, intent-based networking encapsulates more. “There is this control and we are bringing the DevOps mindset to building and operating the network,” Heller said.
Cheriton added that the big cloud players like Google, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft’s Azure understand the value of intent-based network. And he encouraged others to join the club: “Being left behind is a bigger risk than being on board,” he said.