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The vision of the intent-based network has been around for almost a decade, but it's only come to fruition in the past couple of years. Many vendors have been working toward a solution, but IBN couldn't become a reality without some key advancements in machine learning. Now that there are more data scientists and machine learning is more mature, IBN has moved from something we see in movies to something we'll start seeing in our businesses.
In April, ComputerWeekly previewed Huawei's Intent-Driven Network (IDN), which is its entry into the intent-based networking (IBN) market. Like other network vendors, Huawei couldn't just flip a switch and transform its existing products into intent-based networks. Its Intent-Driven Network is made up of new hardware and software.
Huawei's IBN hardware, software lineup
With Huawei expected to officially roll out IDN this week, the vendor has released more details about what to expect.
- Intent-Driven Network hardware. The new S7530-HI and S6720-HI are fully programmable Ethernet switches based on Huawei's silicon Ethernet Network Processor. The custom application-specific integrated circuit delivers advanced features and is complemented with merchant silicon for standard functions. One of the unique attributes of this intent-based network line is it includes an integrated wireless controller for unified wired and wireless network management. The S7530-HI is equipped with all gigabit Ethernet ports, and the S6720-HI has 100 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks. That makes the S6720-HI the first programmable, fixed form-factor switch with uplinks of that speed.
These switches target the campus network and are designed to work with Huawei's wireless access points, which are ready for the internet of things, because they support a range of wireless protocols, including Bluetooth, Zigbee and radio frequency ID.
Huawei also has more than 30 technology partners that provide vertically specific offerings Huawei partners target markets that include retail, logistics, education, property management, service providers and general enterprise.
- Intent-Driven Network software. CampusInsight 2.0 is an upgrade to Huawei's network insight engine and should be considered the intelligence that powers the intent. Network and application data is collected and turned into telemetry information in real time. Machine learning is then applied to monitor the network and predict problems. The network insight engine uses a digital twin of the network, so analysis can be applied and changes tested without affecting the production network. A digital twin is a virtual copy of the original item and allows companies to conduct real-time simulations. The use of digital twins is popular in verticals like manufacturing, and it's interesting that Huawei has brought this to the network domain.
- Software-Defined Campus 2.0. This takes the data from CampusInsight and automates the execution of the changes. Huawei uses software-defined networking and cloud technologies to fully automate network configuration, policy management and provisioning. SD-Campus is a great complement to CampusInsight, as it enables full lifecycle management of the end-to-end network. Huawei claims the automation tool can reduce operational expenses by as much as 80%. Given the manual nature of network operations today, 80% seems like an achievable number. Additionally, it would greatly offload much of the grunt work from network engineers and allow them to focus on more strategic issues.
Huawei has also brought threat protection into IDN with software-defined security. In essence, Huawei is using a combination of CampusInsight and SD-Campus to automate network segmentation and other network services that can be used to better protect a network. Intent-based network systems can be used in a number of ways; improving security may well be the lowest-hanging fruit, with the broadest appeal. There's not a CEO, CIO or chief information security officer who doesn't have cybersecurity on their mind, and using intent-based network systems to reduce risk is an excellent use case.
Huawei in the U.S.A.
Huawei remains somewhat a mystery in North America. It has been adopted widely by service providers and businesses of all sizes in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and emerging markets, but has seen little uptake in North America. Huawei has done almost no marketing in North America, so the brand isn't very well-known.
In addition, the U.S. government has issued warnings that the Chinese-owned company could be using the equipment to spy on Americans. Government warnings were directed primarily at service providers, but enterprise IT and business leaders may have concerns, as well. As an analyst, I try to maintain a balanced view and have seen no evidence that Chinese equipment vendors are spying on companies through their equipment, just as there is no proof the U.S.-based manufacturers are spying on Chinese firms. Huawei offers a good, quality product at a low price point, and companies that are interested should bring the products into their labs and do their own testing to alleviate any concerns.