In today’s PICNIC episode, we welcome Ronnie Ray, Senior Director of Product Management for DNA in the Enterprise Networking Business in Cisco, who explains what Intent Based Networking (IBN) is and why it matters.
With over 18 years of experience, Ronnie leads product strategy, roadmap, and business execution for software controller, analytics, and assurance products for the Enterprise Network, including digital network architecture (DNA).
Until now, the way to manage networks has been to talk individually to each device. It’s pretty tedious. There are multiple languages.
“There could be multiple protocols, and that has been the de facto way that people have managed networks,” Ronnie said, despite some automation in management tools.
“Essentially the network has always been an aggregation of individual devices,” he said.
What IBN does is really abstract out the network.
Think about the virtualization that happened to the data center space 15 or so years ago. Now there’s a network type of virtualization, too.
“Now I can talk to the network through something called policy,” Ronnie explained.
You don’t have to know the CLI for every different network device now. “What I do in IBN is go to one screen to manage all the applications,” he said.
The controller part of the software is able to take that policy intent and translate it to whatever device at whatever company and push that into the network.
The intent is really being driven from a business and an outcome standpoint into the network through this policy description.
The result? “Massive simplification of automation.”
Other than simplification, of course.
IBN is all about customers whose businesses are massively accelerating in terms industry transformation or company transformation.
Minimal Security Exposure
Today’s threat landscape itself has changed to be more than a firewall.
Malware can sit on your laptop for six months before triggering. “So there’s a lot of lateral infiltration that happens,” Ronnie said.
IBN provides a network that’s automated. “It costs me less to run and optimize, and it’s agile,” Ronnie said. “It’s more secure because network with security in the IBN world also starts to come closer together.”
Maximum Ease of Implementation
Network managers will want IBN because it’s so consumable.
“IBN is software defined and is trying to kind of abstract to beyond devices into a network level place so that I can really look at and do things on the network at scale,” Ronnie said.
Where IBN is going with policy intent and the translation process is making it much more user consumable than its precursor, STN, ever reached.
Basically, IBN brings in automation across multiple layers of the stack.
So, take password management. Even Cisco IT has some people going out every month to physically change passwords by hand, which takes a couple of days.
This is a routine thing that a network manager would do now in IBN. “I can just change that to policy,” Ronnie said.
“So what IBN does is really make those policy based so I can really drag and drop,” he said.
The IBN Customer Journey
Here’s how it works. Create those policies on the user interface on a browser and have the controller in the center translate the intention back into the network.
“The way the customers would go forward in terms of the journey is saying let’s automate the routine things first and take on the transformative things that would require some amount of network change in architecture change next,” Ronnie said.
Network managers know time is money, so they don’t want to spend a bunch of time in implementation.
But it really does become as simple as drag and drop with IBN.
“I just came back from the Cisco Live Barcelona,” Ronnie said. “There was tremendous excitement among customers and seeing how I can free up time.”
Like not having employees stay up nights to do image management or doing a patch update or password changes.
“So they are seeing time freed up to do things like architecture and design,” Ronnie said.
“All of us, as we know, in IT are all under tremendous pressure to do more with less, and IBN will absolutely help them in that process,” he added.
IBN and the Current Vendor Landscape
In terms of how IBN will impact the market—think huge.
“So imagine today in any startup or a management software that’s talking to the network, spending a humongous amount of time—50% or north of that—trying to understand the variability of the devices that are brought together from different players,” Ronnie said.
With IBN, the time you need to learn all those different languages that you need to speak to all of those different platforms and switches will evaporate.
“You are always trying to adjust to the variability of the real world,” he said. “And what intent based networking would do is give them that.”
IBN has new abstraction layers. One’s a configuration and automation obstruction layer (the controller). And then there’s a data abstraction layer (standardization of APIs and policy commands).
Now you can talk to the system through standardized APIs and policy commands: This is what I intend to do. This is what I intend to show. This is how I want to troubleshoot. This is the data that I require.
“The data itself becomes enriched data. It’s not anymore just a device centric data,” Ronnie said.
Back to the impact on the vendor landscape. People will see much more innovation because this routine work that just has to be done will be massively simplified.
The complexity of how each device is different just goes away because of the harmonization in terms of how data is shared.
“So I see vendors being able to focus more on the customer-use cases instead of doing standard reporting, standard collection,” Ronnie predicted.
IBN will open up the market to the next generation of evolution and innovation that companies can focus on.
Cisco's IBN Strategy
The term IBN was actually coined by Gartner Magic Quadrant because they’d been talking about how IBN is a the vision of the future. They were thinking about it as a couple of years away.
But it’s happening in many industries much faster than that.
“I think in the IBN context, Cisco leads the intent based networking journey because we are out there now with what we call our centralized management console that has the controller and the data analytics platform all in built into it,” Ronnie said. It’s called DNA center.
DNA center is the platform that Ronnie’s team at Cisco is responsible for—along with a host of other products and management software.
“It’s becoming the linchpin on how we can do simpler, faster, more secure, and more agile management networks, but also being able to take policy and connect it to what users are doing on the cloud,” Ronnie said.
And there will only be more consolidation as IBN evolves.