Wesley Hand
Director, Product Management, Network Testing Solutions
Blog

All-In Automation—Achieving Intent-Based Networking

June 25, 2018 by Wesley Hand

According to code.org, there are currently 526,393 computing jobs open in the USA, but only 49,291 computer science students graduated into the workforce last year. Recent research published by ESG revealed that 51% of organizations have a problematic cybersecurity skills shortage; but back in 2014, only 23% did. Could this growing trajectory indicate we’re headed for a computing skills perfect storm? 

There’s more than one way to solve a skills shortage, but South Korea is a good example of going all-in on automation. This country has a population that is aging faster than any other developed country and reported more deaths than births for the first time last December. To tackle the problem of its fast-dwindling workforce, it is looking to automation in the form of robots. It now has the highest robot density in the world, with 631 robots (estimated to do the work of more than 15 humans each1) per 10,000 employees (according to the International Federation of Robotics). If you do the math, you’ll see that the robots are nearly doubling South Korea’s workforce.

What is Intent-Based Networking?

Let’s now step back to our computing skills gap. IT automation has developed over the years and is implemented quite successfully in parts of some networks. But “intent-based networking” (IBN) is an all-in strategy that will transform how networks are built and controlled by fully automating the entire network. IDC describes it as leveraging "machine learning, cognitive computing, and deep analytics capabilities to provide greater levels of programmability, automation, and security integration while reducing time spent on manual network configuration and management."

According to Andrew Lerner, research VP at Gartner, et al., “intent-based networking is nascent, but could be the next big thing in networking, as it promises to improve network availability and agility, which are key as organizations transition to digital business.”2 This network strategy is in its infancy, or maybe just a twinkle in its father’s eye, but looks to be a good strategy to help address the IT skills gap and save costs.

Zero-Touch Network and Service Management

A complementary automation concept being advanced by standards body ETSI is “zero-touch network and service management.” This next-generation management system will leverage virtualization models like NFV, SDN, and cloud to achieve fully automated management and operation. In the full realization of this concept, humans will define networks at the highest level of abstraction with literally zero human interaction in the deployment of the implementation. 

Automated Testing Is Critical to Realizing the Promises

These automation ideas that aim to revolutionize networking promise to help organizations solve many problems like skills shortages, human error, and cost overruns. But testing will be a big part of realizing those promises. Network operators must know that what was deployed is actually what was intended. This is where the concept of “closed-loop” automation helps to ensure that the intent is achieved.  

How do we close the loop? Can we use the intent-based network definition as the driver for the service assurance, through automation? Seems like it should be possible, as long as your service assurance is just as automatable as your network. 

Network function performance and security analysis and validation solutions must be designed with automation in their DNA. Whether the validation solution uses physical elements or virtual test functions, the automation supports the same common automation technologies as the network elements, like REST APIs and python libraries. It also has suites of prepackaged test methodologies to quickly “close the loop” for the next-generation networks.

Deploying intent-based networks using zero-touch technology can be risky. Unintended consequences are not always obvious, so rigorous testing for both the intentional and unintentional scenarios is the only way to ensure the network is safe and reliable.

More Information

Read about Ixia’s test automation solutions.

References

1. https://internetofbusiness.com/south-korea-automated-nation-earth-says-report-uk-nowhere-robotics

2. Gartner, Innovation Insight: Intent-Based Networking Systems, 17 February 2017, 13 April 2018