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intent-based networking (IBN)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Intent-based networking (IBN) is a developing area of technology incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automate administrative tasks across a network. The end goal of IBN is the creation of self-managing networks.

According to Gartner research, 75 percent of current networks are still managed manually: Administrators create scripts that detail everything required to accomplish a given task and interact through a command line interface (CLI) and program the switches and scores of other devices supporting enterprise networks.

In contrast, intent-based networking is based on telling the network what you want (your intent) rather than exactly what to do, on a technical level, to accomplish your goal. Intent is automatically interpreted across different devices, without requiring engineers to individually alter each device in a network. IBN requires drastically less administrative input, and that input can be through a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI).

In essence, a functioning intent-based network system (IBNS) would respond to the question of what should be done in a given situation. The response could be to an administrator's request or (more commonly) an automatic reaction to some system event. Given a particular event or a particular desired event or behavior, the system could work out how to respond appropriately without human input.

According to many industry analysts, intent-based networking systems will be necessary to manage the networks of the future connecting data centers, public clouds and the Internet of Things (IoT). However, IBN is still in the early stages of development. For one thing, AI itself is still developing and AI technologies are not yet widely implemented in networking. Nevertheless, Gartner predicts that IBN will be functioning in at least a thousand enterprise networks by 2020.

This was last updated in December 2017

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