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What is intent-based networking?

The networking industry's hottest new buzzword -- intent-based networking -- is the next evolution of network software management. Get up to speed fast with this visual explainer.

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The networking industry has a big new buzzword: Intent-based networking. What is intent based networking and why should you care?

Intent-based networking has emerged in the past year and it represents the next evolution of network software management. Intent based networking, or IBN, uses machine-learning and advanced orchestration to reduce the complexity of managing and maintaining network policies.

Managing networks has always been a complex process. Teams of network administrators have been responsible for managing network equipment, provisioning user access, configuring policies and ensuring the system is doing what it’s supposed to. Many admins use command line interfaces to control their networks. Unfortunately, this way of managing the network does not scale very well.

The idea of IBN is that network administrators simply tell the network what their intent is and the network automatically implements it. The IBN configures the network hardware. If the network changes, for example a new firewall is added, or a new WAN link is created, the IBN will change with it to maintain the intent.

Think of a hospital with a network carrying sensitive patient information. Using an intent-based networking system, network administrators could dictate their intent that only doctors and nurses are able to interact with sensitive patient data, but no other users on the network are. The IBN automatically recognizes the identity of the doctor and enforces their access policy.

The security implications for IBN are promising. The IBN ingests the intent of the network administrator and can automatically maintain security policies. This frees network security administrators up to focus more on incident response rather than implementing policies.

Intent-based networking is still in the very early days of development. There are a plethora of startups and big-name vendors that are developing this technology. Some believe IBN could be the next revolutionary step in network management. And that means it could be coming to a network near you some day soon.