Now that Cisco has thrown its hat into the intent-based networking ring, the enterprise IT community has been clamoring for examples of how the technology can be used to streamline and automate their network infrastructure. One easy use case can be found in the configuration and management of real-time data transport, such as unified voice and video communications. After all, what better way to support real-time unified communications than with a network that learns, reacts and adapts to network changes also in real time?
Intent-based networking could revolutionize how we deploy and manage networks to control bandwidth and latency for time-sensitive UC data flows. But you first need to understand how network administrators complete this task using conventional configuration methods.
Today, most enterprise LAN networking equipment -- including routers, switches, firewalls and wireless LANs -- are configured for quality of service (QoS). The purpose of QoS is to identify traffic that is critical in nature, then give it preference on the network over other types of traffic. Real-time data streams, such as voice and video, are commonly the highest-prioritized traffic because of their high sensitivity to latency, jitter and dropped packets.
Network administrators have three manual tasks to complete to properly configure QoS. The first is to identify traffic to which they wish to apply policy. Next, each identified packet is marked so it can be separated into its own policy class. Finally, policy is applied to the class or classes inbound or outbound on network interfaces. The policies are used to prioritize critical data streams for immediate processing, while other traffic is sent to queuing buffers or dropped during times of congestion.
Configuring QoS on a network must be performed over and over on each network device that requires the QoS policy. Additionally, any changes that need to be made must be reapplied manually on a hop-by-hop basis. In other words, configuring QoS on large enterprise WANs can be an incredibly complicated and time-consuming procedure to implement and maintain.
Saving time for network administrators
Now, let's look at how an end-to-end intent-based network can cut down on the time it takes to deploy and modify QoS techniques for UC applications. The first major change is the level at which we interact with applications such as voice and video.
While legacy networks require administrators to identify traffic flows based on Layers 3 and 4 of the Open Systems Interconnection model, intent networking has the intelligence to peer into OSI Layers 4 through 7 and automatically determine what type of application a specific packet or frame belongs to.
Identification and marking is no longer a manual process. Therefore, a considerable amount of time is saved. The only real requirement the administrator must perform is to simply define the desired outcome -- or state -- of the network. This is essentially your policy where you define how critical traffic, such as voice, video and other latency-sensitive flows, should be handled.
Think of it as if you were setting the cruise control on your car to 70 mph. Except in this situation, the car is your intent-based network, and the speed set is the QoS policy you wish to maintain for a specific set of UC application flows.
Cutting back on manual configuration
With intent-based networking, you no longer must configure your infrastructure on a hop-by-hop basis. Changes are configured centrally -- as with any software-defined networking architecture -- then policy is pushed out to areas of the network that require them.
Once complete, machine learning and automation are used to optimize and maintain the desired network state during times of outages, congestion or other problems that can affect network performance. Critical data flows are routed around problem areas whenever possible.
As the number and complexity of real-time UC applications continue to rise, it's nice to know the days of manually configuring networks using conventional QoS techniques will one day be a thing of the past.
Intent-based networking will not only allow network administrators to easily configure policy for the proper flow of real-time streams, it also can automatically route around problem areas that affect latency-sensitive data flows. This is a technology that will not only save administrators time, it will also significantly optimize and increase the operability of UC apps across an entire enterprise network. For any UC and network administrator, this could be a dream come true.
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