This nugget caught my eye in Cisco’s 2020 Global Networking Trends Report, fresh off the presses in October 2019:

“While only 4% of IT leaders and network strategists classify their network as an intent-based network today, 35% plan for their network to be intent-based within two years.”

Those 35% are on to something. Intent-based networking is a boon for network operations teams struggling with more user devices, more cloud traffic, and tighter schedules to provision new offices. Here are some of the ways we’re putting intent-based networking to work at Cisco.

Freedom from the drudgery of manual device onboarding

Cisco employees now have an average of 3.1 devices—and rising. I myself have a phone, tablet, laptop, and a Webex video endpoint. Who knows what else is on the horizon. If our team had to manually onboard all those devices we’d be overwhelmed—and, frankly, bored. Software-defined access (a flavor of intent-based networking mentioned in the report) makes onboarding faster and more accurate. We use SD-Access today to automatically connect devices to the right network (production, lab, or guest) based on on the user’s identity and whether their device is trusted—and in some cases based on the application or time of day.

Waze for cloud traffic

The report’s prediction that 50% of all workloads will run in the cloud has big implications for WAN design. Consider Office 365 traffic, for instance. Our mid-size branch offices have an MPLS link and an Internet link that we used to reserve for backups. But routing Office 365 traffic to the data center only to backhaul it to the Internet causes latency and eats up WAN capacity. Our solution is using Cisco SD-WAN Cloud OnRamp for SaaS to direct the cloud traffic to the most efficient link at the moment—often the Internet link, which otherwise would be idle. We’re “customer zero” for Cloud OnRamp, trying it out before customers do so we can share our experiences. Here’s a blog about our pilot using it with Office 365.

Faster provisioning of new branches

Another driver for intent-based networking is speeding up provisioning in new branches (or stores or doctors’ offices) so they can open sooner. Using Plug and Play, part of Cisco DNA Center, we provision and configure switches in minutes. The person at the branch can connect the switch and walk away, because the switch automatically retrieves the correct configuration file based on its model and serial number. For more, read this case study.

Machine learning brings more power

Intent-based networking gets even more interesting when it’s combined with machine learning. The report notes that “intent-based networking is the platform on which machine learning is built.” Here’s an idea for putting that idea in play. Currently we reserve a fixed portion of WAN bandwidth for video, maybe 25%, to make sure we can deliver a good user experience even if demand surges unexpectedly. How much more cushion will we need when 4K video becomes the norm? To find out we could fire up a test scenario in the lab, using machine learning to discover the optimum percentage.

The 2020 Global Networking Trends Report is great food for thought. It’s organized in three sections—technology, operations, and talent—so it’s easy to jump right to your area of interest.

What other points in the report caught your interest? What are your plans for intent-based networking? Please type in the comment box.