In my conversations with customers, I’ve observed that there’s still quite a bit of confusion in some circles surrounding intent-based networking. Some people are unclear on exactly what IBN is, what it does and how it can benefit their organization.
At the risk of sounding simplistic, the answer is right in the name: An IBN system allows network administrators to define a desired state for the network and then uses automation to implement those desired (or intended) policies.
While the ideas behind IBN are not new, machine learning technology only recently reached a point where systems could intelligently monitor network traffic and use context to strategically implement the policies that network administrators have laid out. A major breakthrough arrived in 2017 when Cisco announced a number of IBN-related technologies. These included Cisco DNA Center, a platform that manages hardware and software lifecycles and puts intent-based policies into action.
Here are three of the major benefits that organizations can achieve with IBN solutions:
Ensure Performance for Specific Traffic
An enterprise network has so much data flowing across it that there’s no way to make sense out of it all at a human level. But a centralized analytics engine can use machine learning to find patterns in the data, understand how applications are functioning and determine whether current performance levels are likely to have a negative effect on user experience.
For most organizations, the biggest win here will likely be around wireless connectivity. Back in the days when most employees’ devices were hardwired to the network, users had a dedicated connection for whatever application they were using. However, wireless users can easily get knocked off an access point or suffer poor performance when too many devices are competing for the same bandwidth.
Historically, it’s been difficult for organizations to troubleshoot problems with wireless connectivity, as performance issues often resolve themselves before IT teams are even aware of a problem. DNA Center addresses this issue by logging historical data about network performance, allowing IT staff to conduct forensic investigations into issues that may have happened days or hours ago. Perhaps even more important, the solution allows network administrators to prioritize certain applications, helping to prevent many quality of service issues from popping up in the first place.
Simplify Management and Maintenance
IBN systems can integrate with service management tools such as ServiceNow to automatically create help tickets when trouble arises with the network. This feature, combined with proactive measures that result in an overall reduction in incidents, can greatly reduce the number of hours that IT staffers spend on network management and maintenance.
While not all organizations closely track the amount of time that their IT shops devote to these tasks, this is where many businesses see a monetary return on investment. Additionally, users will be more productive when they’re not grappling with connectivity issues.
Tools such as Cisco Stealthwatch, which integrates with DNA Center, can watch out for anomalies in network traffic and alert administrators to potential security problems. These solutions then automatically quarantine suspected threats and provide network engineers all the information they need to begin fighting back and shoring up vulnerabilities.
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