What Is Intent-Based Analytics?

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By: R. Scott Raynovich

Today's networks and data centers are complex animals. Gone are the days when an organization could install a few Ethernet switches, connect them to servers, and monitor them with Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) and be done. Cloud applications and virtualized networks have made things more complicated, operating at different levels of the network, whether it be Layer 2, Layer 3, overlay or underlay, or even containerized applications. How do you make sense of it all?

Intent-based networking (IBN) and Intent-based Analytics (IBA) systems are arriving on the scene, using the capabilities brought by the abundance of Application Programming Interface (API) data to gain unprecedented visibility and control over networks. IBA uses real-time telemetry system to track the state of the network and compare it with the logical rules of a programmatic IBN system to automate network operations.

IBA Drives Network Automation

Inside the cloud, thousands of processes are occurring throughout different layers of the network. When the cloud scales, the complexity of hardware and software means that many things can go wrong. Switches might fail, and virtual workloads may have to be moved to accommodate change. A connection may go offline due to a network card failure. Human errors can also be made in design and construction, such as cables into the wrong place or bad network configurations made by command-line interface (CLI).

At the same time, complexity is rising in the software domain, with networks being designed as virtual overlays on top of L3 hardware underlay -- that's yet another system to monitor. The overlay and underlay portions of the network likely have different management and monitoring systems -- one in the physical domain and one in the virtual domain. No human can follow this fast enough with the eyeballs on a screen. It requires a machine. How to does one manage and operate such a network effectively? 

Regular polls and surveys of data-center network managers indicate they are frustrated with the operating costs and time-consumed with troubleshooting and reconfiguring networks to support cloud applications. Some recent survey data from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) found that only 26% of networking professionals had monitoring and troubleshooting tools that provided adequate visibility into external public cloud service, and just 37% had adequate visibility into hybrid clouds. End users have made it clear that they want more hardware that can interoperate and share management and flow information.

On the compute side, virtualization platforms have evolved their own tools for managing and analyzing cloud applications, but the network has fallen behind. This is because networks evolved with their own specialized management platforms, often tied to proprietary networks. These proprietary network management and orchestration systems have not evolved as fast as the cloud systems.

Open Networking Movement

Change is coming to networking and solutions to these problems are within sight. The open networking movement has enabled customers to build networks with more hardware choices, and the proliferation of APIs is making network data abundant and accessible, providing an opportunity to collect more data.

IBA will be crucial to executing this model, resulting in more resilient, efficient, and lower cost operations for networks. These are the key tools that produce network automation, which can improve operations and reduce downtime and costs.

Why would you want to do this? Very simple: Time and money. The goals of IBA and IBN are as follows:

  • Producing a “single source of truth,” or data repository, that can gather a wide range of network telemetry
  • Creating an IBA engine that can recognize and diagnose anomalies and initiate automated fixes to reduce operating costs
  • Increasing network resources by maximizing efficiency
  • Enabling automated modeling for planning and design, to understand future needs

Apstra is considered as one of the pioneers of IBA movement which it defined in a series of blogs