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IBN: Enablement for a configuration management process?

How realistic are claims about intent-based networking helping organizations to enhance the network configuration management process?

Today, Intent-based networking, or IBN, is more theoretical concept than technology reality, and its role in the configuration management process is still to be determined.

Separating reality from hype

The idea behind intent-based networking is simple enough: By harnessing automation, an organization can base its networking requirements on business objectives through the use of orchestration software that will continually adjust network resources to meet those needs.

Automation can eliminate errors that occur during monotonous network administrative processes.

The reality is while a number of vendors continue to work on the automation and orchestration technologies needed to remove some of the manual processes associated with provisioning and the configuration management process, there is still minimal interoperability between approaches. What's more, the idea of a line of business dictating the network's operational state to meet a specific corporate requirement remains aspirational -- and even questionable.

That said, some of the early entrants to this market are developing tools designed to remove some of the laborious administrative steps involved in the configuration management process. Companies such as Apstra, Cisco, Forward Networks and NEC are producing software that automates enough network configuration steps to expedite changes.

Working toward efficiency and agnosticism

Reducing the number of human hours required to make tedious changes does more than improve efficiencies and potentially lower costs. Automation can eliminate errors that occur during monotonous network administrative processes and improve the configuration management process.

IBN is also vendor-agnostic. By extricating network services from the underlying infrastructure, IBN vendors are offering tools that can provision services, track device activity and alert IT to potential issues -- across a wide variety of network components -- regardless of supplier.

Vendors are also developing products that offer sophisticated predictive capabilities. This makes it possible for IT to envision how evolving scale requirements will affect service levels. This kind of approach will help IT organizations make the hardware and software changes necessary to avoid overprovisioning and potential bottlenecks.

What remains an open question is if -- or when -- we will get to a point where a line-of-business manager has access to software that can automatically determine network behavior without the need for manual intervention or command-line interface coding.

Beyond the sweeping process and technology changes this transformation requires, big cultural and job preservation questions remain. 

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