The network is the critical platform that underpins all digital operation and transformation. However, for most companies, it is not operated as a system, but rather as a collection of devices that are manually configured to work together. In fact, 85% of network teams still use the Command Line Interface (CLI) as the primary method to operate their networks. The result is a fragile digital infrastructure that is difficult and dangerous to change, incurs significant OPEX to keep working, and impedes the agility required to respond to business needs as well as incorporate best-of-breed devices without deference to a selected vendor. It is not surprising that many organizations spend an order of magnitude more on operations than on acquiring equipment in the first place.
Many can agree that network automation is the key to address these problems, but there is far less agreement on what this means and how to get there. Is it a collection of PERL scripts? Or maybe a few extensions to the server automation? Or?
In my talk at VMWorld FUTURE:NET 2017 in Las Vegas, I will describe how intent-based networking is the key to making the network an agile yet highly reliable platform with much lower OPEX and CAPEX. Intent raises the level of specification for the network engineer to allow him or her express what is needed, and not how to achieve it. A “network operating system” can then take that intent and instruct (i.e. configure) each device to behave so as to achieve this intent, as well as collect telemetry that continuously validates that this intent is being achieved, or else can notify the operator if the situation cannot be automatically corrected.
See David Cheriton speak at FUTURE:NET in Las Vegas on August 31, 2017.
The network engineer benefits by being able to express the higher-level intent explicitly, rather than having it lost in the complex, error-prone tasks of translating this intent into lower-level CLI configurations for each involved device. The network engineer is also relieved of other low-level tasks such as generating cabling diagrams as well device configurations to achieve the intent. The network engineer is further empowered to have the entire state of the network at their fingertips, and to extend the telemetry in a matter of minutes to capture any parameters of his choosing state that captures all the relationships and that they can query to answer any questions about the network.
This unburdening frees up time to think strategically about the network, to both meet application demands as well as selecting best-of-breed network devices. By getting rid of manual waste, organizations that embrace intent-based networks can easily recoup their entire CAPEX costs; and including intangibles such as opportunity cost and ability to compete, the value creation can easily amount to orders of magnitude more.