Over the past year, we’ve continued to expand our solutions to deliver Intent-Based Networking to our customers. Our years of designing, building, and operating networks tells us that you just can’t add automation to existing processes. The scale, complexity and new security threat vectors have grown to a point where we need to rethink in some fundamental ways how networks work, and beyond that, how networks and applications interact. Let’s dive in to what Cisco means by Intent-Based Networking, and how it can help you run your data center more efficiently and more intelligently for your business.

Networking is shifting from a box-by-box, configure-monitor-troubleshoot model to a model where the network globally understands the intent, or requirements, that need to be satisfied, automatically realizes them, and continuously verifies the requirements are met.   This process has 3 key functions – translation, activation, and assurance.

Understanding the “intent” cycle in the data center

Translation: The Translation function begins with the capture of intent. Intent is a high-level, global expression of what behavior is expected from the infrastructure to support business rules and applications. Intent can be captured from multiple locations; for instance, users may directly provide requirements or built-in profiling tools, capable of analyzing behavior in the network and workloads, may automatically generate them. Once intent is captured, it must be translated to policy and validated against what the infrastructure can implement.

Activation: The Activation function installs these policies and configurations throughout the infrastructure in an automated manner. This covers not just the network elements – physical and virtual switches, routers, etc. – but also covers software-based agents installed directly in the workload. Additionally, as datacenter networks become multicloud, this must work across multiple datacenters, colocation environments, and even public clouds.

Assurance: The last function, Assurance, is an important part of what makes Intent-Based Networking unique. It’s a new function we’ve never been able to offer in the network before. Assurance is the continuous verification, derived from network context and telemetry, that the network is operating in alignment with the programmed intent. It offers a continuous ground truth about not just what’s happening but also what’s possible in your network. It helps you confidently make changes with the advanced knowledge of how they will impact your infrastructure.


What Intent-Based Networking means for the data center

Now let’s think about Intent-Based Networking and its translation, activation, and assurance functions in the context of some of our datacenter products, Cisco ACI, Nexus 9000, Network Assurance Engine (NAE), and Tetration.

Cisco ACI offers a policy-based SDN fabric capable of providing translation and activation functions for the network. The Application Policy Infrastructure Controller (APIC) exposes a policy model abstraction that can be used to capture higher level requirements and automatically convert them into low level or concrete configuration. This configuration is automatically and transparently communicated to the network infrastructure, including Nexus 9000 switches, as part of the activation process.

Cisco Network Assurance Engine fulfills the assurance function in the network. NAE was designed to integrate with both the network devices as well as a network controller such as the APIC. NAE reads policy and configuration state from APIC as well as configuration, dynamic and hardware state on each device. Using this information to build a mathematical model of the network, NAE is able to proactively and continuously verify that the network is behaving in accordance with the operator intent and policy captured in the APIC. By codifying knowledge of thousands of built-in failure scenarios that run continuously against the model, NAE can identify problems in the network before they lead to outages and provide a path to remediation. It is precisely this closed-loop behavior that characterizes an Intent-Based Networking design.

Cisco Tetration contributes to multiple functions in an Intent-Based Network at an application and workload level. Its application dependency mapping capabilities play a critical role in profiling applications and ultimately capturing intent. Its cloud workload security and segmentation capabilities provide a means of delivering (or activating) a highly automated, zero-trust security environment. This includes advanced capabilities such as detecting software vulnerabilities, identifying deviations in process behavior in addition to building whitelist segmentation policies based on real-time telemetry. And Tetration’s network performance, insight, and forensic capabilities provide visibility and assurance of what is occurring in your environment.  It can described as a time machine or “DVR” due to its ability to play back past network behavior and model future trends.

As you can see, Cisco ACI, Nexus 9000, Network Assurance Engine and Tetration all play a critical role in delivering Intent-Based Networking in the datacenter, and, in conjunction with products such as DNA Center, provide a consistent experience across datacenter and enterprise networks. Want to learn more about what Intent-Based Networking can do for you? Check out our e-book and read our recent white paper.