Intent-Based Networking (IBN) is widely considered to be the next big innovation in networking industry. IBN is all about simplifying the process of implementing new upgrades and changes in any networking environment to ensure the results match the original intent. IBN can be considered a successor to software-defined networking (SDN) as it seeks to automate networking operations while better aligning networks with business intent.
IBN helps to automate operations that were traditionally performed by network analysts or network support engineers through an intent based model. This is achieved by creating a level of abstraction that through certain orders, points out the service or application to be added, which automates all network configuration and management activities.
The Challenges Posed by SDN and NFV Based Networks
A number of organizations are making long-term investments in the cloud and are just beginning to realize the benefits of NFV and SDN. As a result, we’re still in a transitionary phase until the transformation is complete. As businesses continue to make this transition, there are a few key considerations from an INB architecture point of view that need to be considered before embarking on this journey:
- Analyze each networking program in your roadmap and define if intent-based networking can be added to these projects well before integrating IBN into the network architecture.
- Ensure robust and thorough monitoring and assurance systems are in place.
- Identify and examine the application programming interfaces (APIs) in the network architecture to determine if they will work with IBN. For instance, Nemo API in ODL/ONOS Controller.
- IT network teams should have a single pane of view across architectures, data centers, campuses, branches and cloud platforms.
- Ensure the network architecture has considered the necessary security elements required.
How IBN Ensures a Holistic Approach to Network Intelligent Verification
Unlike the traditional interpretation of network verification, the intelligent network verification I’m alluding to is able to consider network design, configurations and prevailing or existing network states to accurately assess network activity. It does not consider live traffic flows and pre-defined testing scenarios hence aiding in the verification of a negative scenario–something traditional testing can seldom accomplish.
As IBN possess the ability to consider the complete network as a single entity, it facilitates a comprehensive approach to network verification. As a result, organizations are more effectively able to validate the behavior of the network, based on its configuration and state, with the higher-level intent.
IBN Necessitates a Fundamental Shift in Network Design and Testing
IBN is shifting the network IT model from a reactive approach to a more proactive software-driven approach where an automated analysis of current network designs can virtually eliminate human errors and misconfigurations. The automation verification enables is helping to replicate and augment the network expertise of the IT staff in troubleshooting and triaging issues during outages, verifying fixes provided by vendors and documenting procedures and workflows.
There are newer testing challenges popping up due to factors arising from multi-vendor software platforms, protocols and APIs operating together in this environment.
One good practice to be adopted before designing a new testing approach would be to look deeply at the critical dependencies in designing an IBN Solution. However, while migrating from an existing network to a virtual network, both networks must be re-validated thoroughly.
Designing a Testing Validation Strategy that Delivers Value
To tap into the full benefits, it is clear SDN and IBN must be integrated together to exploit their potential. Hence, it is critical to have a testing approach focused on five important areas.
These areas along with the relevant tests that need to be considered are highlighted below:
- Business Policy: Policy conversion to technology and map test, service design and logical topology test, username to host mapping test and REST API functionality test.
- Automation: Service placement test, service functional test, service performance test, policy validation test (user intent and policy change validation).
- Assurance: End-to-end monitoring test, performance of user intent and usage of resources test, performance of SLAs and service profiles test (traffic throughput, latency, jitter).
- Programmable Network Infrastructure: Southbound API test (NEMO API), OpenFlow test, Ovsdb test, network management test.
- Security: Service convergence test, conformance test (IBN customer specs conformance, Intent vulnerabilities reporting).
Testing is Critical to Ensuring the Success of IBN Automation
With constant transformation of the network and associated technical complexities faced by network engineers, verification becomes an important step for enabling IBN to achieve its objectives in an SDN-based IBN network architecture. While companies are still allowing software to drive their IT upgrades completely, a focus on a well-defined testing approach is critical to provide the much-needed predictability and assurance required for a successful IBN implementation.
Adopting a layered and integrated approach provides significant benefits related to early detection of bugs, improved test cycles through automation, predictability of outcomes, increase in confidence levels, enhanced scalability, improved security guidelines and adequate testing to ensure smooth delivery.
After all, when the Intent is right and more importantly validated, all the pieces come together to drive business agility.