The “what”, “why”, and “how” of intent-based networking
Co-authored by Bob Laliberte, Practice Director & Senior Analyst, ESG
Earlier in 2018, Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) published its whitepaper on how an intent-based approach to networking was enabling IT and networking teams to address their top operational challenges, including: budget costs, security, and agility to respond to market conditions and the requirements of their businesses.
ESG and Cisco recently hosted a webinar for IT and networking practitioners to delve deeper into the “what”, “why” and “how” of intent-based networking. We wanted to help the audience understand why businesses should care about intent-based networking, and how they can approach it.
Here is a preview of some of the questions we discussed:
Question: is intent-based networking just another flavor of software-defined networking (SDN)?
Answer: think about software-defined networking as foundational to intent-based networking. SDN brings management across the network elements, allowing you to:
- make changes programmatically
- have visibility, for example into the topology of the network
SDN is purposely focused on instantiating change in network functions. While that is powerful, IT professionals need more capability to deliver what your business is demanding. Intent-based networking adds context, learning and assurance capabilities, by tightly coupling policy to intent as well as closed-loop feedback from assurance to activation.
Ultimately, intent-based networking is about connecting users and devices in the network to the applications that support them; rolling out new services and doing it securely with the desired scale, performance, and reliability; and finally, having the visibility to assure things are operating as they should.
*For more on this topic, read this Cisco blog to explore how software-defined networking (SDN) is a foundational element of an intent-based network.
Answer: It’s no surprise that the evolution of the IT environment due to digital transformation, IoT, and multicloud is putting a lot of pressure on IT.
IT teams have to move faster to keep pace with the needs of the organization, and are looking for ways to consolidate and simplify infrastructure and operations to manage the complexity of all devices, applications, and users in the distributed IT landscape.
According to ESG research, the #2 area of focus for streamlining operations is networking. And how are your peers justifying the IT transformation that is necessary to drive digital transformation? Improved security, employee productivity, and customer experience were the top three responses. 
Intent-based networking can help organizations realize these goals. It provides you with an architecture that helps the network become a strategic growth enabler for the business.
Answer: a great first step, to borrow from a well-known phrase, is to “think globally, start locally” and approach IBN in phases. Many readers will already have pieces of your network that are primed for intent-based networking, based on existing investments you have made in SDN.
Start by identifying a singular domain, perhaps where you have the most opportunity for return on investment. Second, look at your projects and ask yourself: “Is each one leading towards an intent-based approach, or is it taking me down the old road”?
You need to think about the expertise required to kick-off your intent-based networking initiatives. You have the opportunity to raise your knowledge base. Is this something you want to tackle in house, or do you want to leverage an outside vendor who has the experience and skill set? The key point here is identifying your strategy early, and taking the appropriate steps to get the buy-in necessary to execute.
Finally, embrace this change and start moving towards the solutions that will help you address the new ways in which organizations will operate and manage networks.
These were just a few of the questions we addressed in the webinar. To hear the full discussion, listen to the recording now.
 Source: ESG Research Report 2018 IT Spending Intentions