The Other Intent-Based Networking

Anyone who is in networking and who knows me is likely aware that I find a fair amount of fault with “Intent-Based Networking”. It has rubbed me wrong since I first heard it as the latest Cisco campaign, having been through many other flavors-of-the-month through the years. I’ve struggled to find within myself exactly what about Intent Based Networking has been pissing me off, but admit that this bogeyman in my mind has been elusive… very hard to pin down. Yet something has been stuck in my craw, I tellya.

Is it the sea of buzzwords that came with it? Is it the coincidental timing of this blog that asks us to swallow that subscriptions somehow equal innovation? (Sorry Cisco- that is a ridiculous stretch, even for you). Or this article in the same time frame telling the world all the ways Cisco is turning up the marketing heat? Sure, put it all together and to me- a customer frustrated by code bugs, feature bloat, corporate bloat, mixed messages at various Cisco levels, and the way that staying a large Cisco customer smells more expensive now than it ever has- and all of that adds to the feeling of being smothered a bit. But even all of THIS isn’t the root of my revulsion at Intent-Based Networking.

But I figured out what is bugging me about Intent-Based Networking. (It came to me like a bolt out of the blue when I was playing Sock Guy with my pug dog.)

Before I get there, let’s take a detour to this Network World Article. I have only recently learned that Intent Based Networking is not just an obnoxious marketing slogan from Cisco, but it’s also recognized as a bigger thing that I had simply never heard of in this context by that name. From the article by Brandon Butler:

Gartner Research Vice President Andrew Lerner says intent-based networking systems (IBNS) are not new, and in fact the ideas behind IBNS have been around for years. What’s new is that machine learning algorithms have advanced to a point where IBNS could become a reality soon. Fundamentally, an IBNS is the idea of a network administrator defining a desired state of the network, and having automated network orchestration software implement those policies.

“IBNS is a stark departure from the way enterprise networks are managed today,” Lerner explains in a research note describing IBNS. “Currently, translation is manual, and algorithmic validation is absent… Intent-based networking systems monitor, identify and react in real time to changing network conditions.”

It goes on to say that IBNS, as a generic construct, has four basic aspects: Translation and validation, Automated implementation, Awareness of state, and Assurance and dynamic optimization/remediation.  Those don’t belong to Cisco, they are the make-up of the general concept of Intent Based Networking. It’s a good article and worth reading.

So back to my angst and irritation. I’ve identified two-co-equal notions that steam my clams when I hear Intent Based Networking, as laid on thick by Cisco.

#1 Irritant. I, and others, have written about being a bit insulted by “AI” as a fix to everything in networking. No one with common sense and a pulse denies that machine learning and artificial intelligence aren’t powerful concepts that can be transformative if implemented right. But… Cisco, Mist, and others tend to send the vibe “our shit is great because of AI and machine learning- we have the right buzzwords and those buzzwords alone would have your wallet salivating! Without this new magic, you suck and your networks suck and you are lost at sea and you have soooooo many problems!”

The problems with that? Some of us design and run really good networks and aren’t thirsting for some mystical deity to come scrape the dumb off of our asses. And… many of the companies and individuals behind the new network magic don’t have stellar track records of getting code and actual customer needs and wants right. To be forced into Intent-Based Networking as the only real evolutionary option does create some discomfort. The new stuff is priced way too high for what is and will remain essentially beta quality in many cases.

#2 Irritant. I’ve heard nothing in Cisco’s marketing about the other Intent-Based Networking. This is the one where CUSTOMER INTENT is for the network to actually and predictably work, with minimal code bugs, free of a gimmicky feel, and with a price structure that doesn’t write out the words “Fleece the Customer” in the sky with a smoke-writing bi-plane. What about OUR intent? Stability, predictability, and no bullshitty licensing paradigms that make sure we never really own what we buy- pretty sure that summarizes the intent of most customers… Like having a network that isn’t the cause of most of it’s own problems by the vendor not shipping problematic code? That’s intuitive, no?

Sometimes words are just words, but put “Intent Based” next to “Networking” and Maslow comes to mind- the foundationally important stuff is what the customer thinks about first.

THIS “Intent Based Networking” is more important than the other one from where I sit. The two notions don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but it feels like they are right now. From the customer perspective, we don’t just pivot from years of erratic code and odd TAC engagements to a brave new expensive and Intent-based world without great skepticism because Cisco’s new marketing army says it’s the thing to do. Tone it down and and talk WITH us, not AT us.

There- now we’ve solved it. I actually feel better getting it out.

(And don’t even get me going on the Network. Intuitive.)


3 thoughts on “The Other Intent-Based Networking

  1. popisdead

    Bugs are getting worse. It’s a fail fast scenario and then fix the bugs on the fly. Seems to me less money is spent on testing so the customer can find the bugs.
    It’s a race to get a new product out as fast as possible, I think its going to be bite someone big on the ass soon(well i hope it does).

  2. Douglas Gourlay

    I read this with some sense of foreboding and then rather profound joy. You may appreciate this piece you inspired me to put together about the beginnings of Intent Based Networking.


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