Terry Slattery
Terry Slattery, is a senior network engineer with decades of experience in the internetworking industry. Prior to joining Chesapeake NetCraftsmen as...
Read Full Bio >>

Terry Slattery | July 31, 2017 |


Intent-Based Networking: Buzzword or Real?

Intent-Based Networking: Buzzword or Real? Intent-based networking systems are more than just a new buzzword, but there are many hurdles to overcome before they become an enterprise reality.

Intent-based networking systems are more than just a new buzzword, but there are many hurdles to overcome before they become an enterprise reality.

Traditional IT systems have been created by smart individuals (or teams) who understand what's needed and translate that intent into an implementation optimized for its performance. The result are specific configurations for network equipment, servers, storage, and security. The definition of what is often lost in the details of how it's implemented.

Take a QoS definition for example. I might see a definition for a real-time express forwarding (EF) traffic queue with an allocation of 1 Mbps applied to a Gigabit Ethernet interface. The intent could have been to allocate 1% of the link to the EF queue. Or the intent could have been to support 10 G.711 voice calls over an MPLS circuit with VLAN tagging, where each call consumes about 100 Kbps (it's actually a bit less than 100 Kbps per call, but allowing for some additional bandwidth is good practice). Without knowing the intent, determining the correctness of the how configuration is difficult.

Intent-based systems avoid this confusion by directly expressing the desired intent (what) and turning that into the necessary configuration that becomes the how. The intent policy that allocates 1% of each link's bandwidth to the EF queue might be a policy that's implemented across an entire network. The call volume policy requires knowing the anticipated number of calls transiting a link.

Defining Intent Policy
Getting the definition of intent right will be a learned skill. It may also depend on the source of data upon which the intent is based. Looking closer at our QoS example above, we can create a third definition, based on actual call volume instead of static values. This definition might be something like the following:

    Allocate enough bandwidth to the EF queue to cover the maximum call volume experienced in each of the last four weeks, e.g. MAX(week1, week2, week3, week4).

The intent policy may also create an alert if the policy result exceeds some other threshold, such as an allocation that's more than 50% of the link bandwidth. A definition that's driven from other dynamic parameters is self-maintaining. The alert threshold is a way to allow the intent policy to request help when the policy's results exceed expected values.

Another definition might be a soft QoS allocation in which the EF queue is allowed to exceed its allocation if enough bandwidth is available to support the excess bandwidth. Generating an alert when this happens would be valuable, so that an adjustment to the allocation could be considered. Even better would be to have the alert triggered only after some number of occurrences in a period of time (e.g., 10 per month). Can you see that intent policies could get pretty complex? We'll need to learn what kind of intent definitions make sense and which ones are needlessly adding complexity.

Policy Conflicts
What happens in the case of policy conflicts? In our QoS example, let's say bandwidth requirements for other queues grew concurrently with the EF traffic requirements. This might happen when the number of employees at a particular location grows, resulting in traffic increases across all QoS queues. The right answer to this situation might be to add more bandwidth, but until that happens, the intent-based system must determine the right allocation of the existing bandwidth to all queues.

More importantly, transient conflicts require automatic handling. For more discussion of the challenges associated with conflicting policies, see the IETF Autonomic Networking Integrated Model and Approach working group presentation, Intent-based Policy Management (starting at slide 8).

Another example is in network security. We may have one policy that provides access to an application and another policy that restricts access due to a vulnerability. The two policies may result in a configuration in which the two sets of security rules conflict with one another. The conflict may also depend on where the rules are applied. Merging policies is a tricky process to get right. Perhaps some really sharp people can determine how to resolve such conflicts while keeping the policy definitions simple.

New Abstractions
The greatest benefit of intent-based systems will be the ability to create one policy for use across large portions of the network, which will lead to simplified configurations. Consider applying one QoS policy across an entire enterprise network, incorporating differences for WAN vs. LAN. The system should create alerts where it is having problems meeting the policy, perhaps on low-bandwidth links. Hiding the details of QoS policy configuration for devices with different configuration syntax will be nice.

We can also have abstract versions of white-list connectivity rules, applied to endpoint groups. Instead of defining individual firewall rules, I'd like to build an intent policy that creates an application access profile, based on a database of connectivity requirements needed for that application. The protocols, port numbers, and packet sizes should be looked up in an application connectivity database. I shouldn't have to work directly with those details. A natural outcome of this abstraction is that when a part of the network no longer needs access to this application, the system knows which firewall rules to modify or delete.

Converting Intent into Configuration
One of the major hurdles engineers must solve is converting intent into network device configuration. The translation of intent into configuration is currently done manually by smart network engineers. It is a fairly mundane and error-prone task, but one that must be done every time a device configuration changes. This interpretation and configuration change is the source of many network outages.

I'm very excited about intent-based networking. This technology is going to revolutionize the networking industry. Ultimately, networking should be able to function at the same timescales as compute and storage configuration (i.e., seconds or minutes, not days or weeks). More importantly, we will begin to work with the network on a higher level of abstraction than we've been able to do since the 1980s.


September 26, 2018

Join Kevin Kieller, Microsoft UC&C expert, along with Ribbon Communications and Polycom, for an update on Microsoft Ignite, and a focus on critical things you need to know about your voice deployme

August 29, 2018

Moving your voice services to the cloud introduces new challenges for 9-1-1 services. These include the need to serve multiple locations, and the increased mobility that comes with having a phone t

August 8, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a reality for your contact center. But to turn the promise of AI into practical reality, there are a couple of prerequisites: Moving to the cloud and integr

March 12, 2018
An effective E-911 implementation doesn't just happen; it takes a solid strategy. Tune in for tips from IT expert Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research.
March 9, 2018
IT consultant Steve Leaden lays out the whys and how-tos of getting the green light for your convergence strategy.
March 7, 2018
In advance of his speech tech tutorial at EC18, communications analyst Jon Arnold explores what voice means in a post-PBX world.
February 28, 2018
Voice engagement isn't about a simple phone call any longer, but rather a conversational experience that crosses from one channel to the next, as Daniel Hong, a VP and research director with Forrester....
February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.