A deep dive into Cisco’s intent-based networking

Cisco SVP Scott Harrell serves up details about the company's intent-based networking.

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When Cisco announced its intent-based networking (IBN) strategy this summer, CEO Chuck Robbins called it the company’s biggest announcement in years.

IBN architectures use a combination of software and hardware to control network infrastructure. It allows users to express their desired state of the network – infrastructure configurations, security polices, etc. – and IBN automatically implements and maintains that state.

[ Check out What is intent-based networking? and Why Cisco’s intent-based networking could be a big deal. ]

Cisco says customers are now trialing the technology. Cisco Senior Vice President Scott Harrell sat down with Network World Senior Editor Brandon Butler to discuss how customers are implementing this technology.  

 He talked about the general business value of IBN, the differences between campus and data-center IBN deployments, the hardware investment that is required, the ability to deploy in heterogeneous environments and return on investment,

 The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.  

Brandon Butler: Why would I want an intent-based networking system? It seems like it’s just advanced network automation and orchestration. What’s the big deal here?

Scott Harrell: The business benefits of intent-based networking can be summed up in three main areas. Number one is around speed and agility. As the network evolves there is a lot more on it. People are now able to spin up a cloud app with the swipe of a credit card. You need to be able to respond in the network. It’s critical for the network to rapidly evolve to meet those needs with minimal manual intervention.

The second thing is it allows IT to focus more on delivering business value. IT today spends a lot of time in tasks that don’t produce value. We can automate a lot of tasks at the management layer, which allows IT to do more work that’s a value-add to the business.

And thirdly, when you look at security, compliance and risk, the automation allows you to reduce the risk of an error and do more granular analysis of the network.

BB: What’s specific about intent-based networking that allows those goals to be achieved?

SH: With IBN we’re treating the entire network as a single fabric and allowing the user to create a policy that spans every node of that network. It automatically translates the user intent into something that can program the entire network. That’s something that’s hard to do if you’re just a management tool because you have to change the OS layer and the ASIC.

We’ve also changed how you listen to the network. Now you can get the context of what’s happening in the network, which dramatically simplifies operations by giving you a more holistic view of the network – most other tools don’t do that.

BB: What does it look like to deploy an IBN in the campus? It seems like it would take a lot of underlying policy writing to implement this intent. Is that true?

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