Gartner recently released a great report titled “Innovation Insight: Intent-Based Networking Systems” by Andrew Lerner, Joe Skorupa, and Sanjit Ganguli (ID: G00323513, Feb 7, 2017). The report covers key aspects of what makes an intent-based system, the impact intent-based networking will have going forward, and recommendations on how organizations can start realizing the benefits of these systems now.
In this post, we’re going to cover the three recommendations that Gartner makes in the report and how the Apstra Operating System (AOS) is an ideal way to get started with intent-based networking.
“Mandate support for open, RESTful APIs when purchasing new networking infrastructure in order to support integration within an intent-based system moving forward.”
There is quite a diverse range of programmable “interfaces” for network devices today, both on-box and off-box. NetConf, REST, Python, TCL, SLAX, XSLT, OpenFlow, I2RS, and more. In fact, on some recent platforms programmers are even able to access a “broadcom shell” on the devices to allow direct interaction with the forwarding hardware. Many devices also allow users to install software directly on the box, providing importable libraries for Python and C.
With a flexible intent-based network system like AOS, developers can develop ‘drivers’ for network devices using virtually any combination of these interfaces. This is a very important point. Look, we know networking is messy. Not all platforms will have the same diverse range of support for programmable interfaces. While it is true you should only be buying programmable devices going forward, you will want the kind of flexibility that AOS provides in an intent-based system in order to make use of whatever arbitrary set of interfaces a given device exposes.
Even if you don’t intend to write your own code against these programmable interfaces, intent-based solutions like AOS require them. AOS is a distributed operating system, and so the underlying hardware devices will have “device drivers” much like the devices on a computer require device drivers. The drivers that ship with AOS work optimally when the hardware has robust programmability features like the ones described above.
“Pilot intent-based networking solutions by deploying them pragmatically in phases over time, versus a full initial implementation.”
Many network automation solutions require entire networks to be rebuilt and reconfigured. If a given network configuration does not fit neatly with the assumptions that software developers made when building such a solution, then that software becomes an obstacle in the day-to-day operations of your network.
AOS mitigates this problem in several ways. First, AOS manages the network in a way that is intuitive to network engineers: in “sections.” Your network is divided into sections with one or more campus networks, one or more data center pods, one or more extranets, and so on. If you need to add a section to your network, for instance for a Big Data project, than you can leverage AOS today to design, deploy, and operate the ideal Big Data network using modern best practices.
Second, AOS can be customized to accommodate parts of your existing network so that you don’t have to redesign or reconfigure them. AOS is extensible. It can be adapted to your topology and to the devices you use as discussed above.
Last, AOS can very minimally be introduced into your environment in “telemetry only” mode, harvesting telemetry from the devices in your network and streaming them to a collection tool of your choosing.
“Budget for intent-based networking solutions using improved network agility, increased network uptime, and/or better alignment with business initiatives as the funding drivers.”
One of the key lessons coming off the SDN hype-cycle is that networking matters. Automating the network is a tough thing to do, and it’s not likely that any solution will eliminate the need for network engineers. If a solution is going to have any impact at all on agility, uptime, cost, and risk, then that solution must be built with profound insight into what network engineers actually do.
By helping network engineers design, deploy, and operate networks faster and with fewer mistakes, AOS finally delivers on decades of promises to increase network uptime and agility while reducing cost and risk.
Intent-based networking is shaping the future of network engineering. It marks a transition away from time-consuming and risky manual changes to a saner and more intuitive way of building and operating networks. Apstra is proud to be at the forefront of this movement, and we feel Gartner’s recommendations are a sensible way to start making this transition today. AOS can be implemented in an incremental, step-by-step manner without boiling the ocean. With AOS, Network Engineers and Operations Managers can start realizing better network uptime, less risk associated with change, and greater agility today.