Applying a Platform Approach to Intent-Based Automation 

Applying a Platform Approach to Intent-Based Automation 

Network Complexity Grows Unabated  

All enterprise networks are growing increasingly more complex, expanding in breadth and depth from the edge to the cloud. The rapid adoption of multi-cloud architectures, Datacenter networks, SD-WAN, and other edge networking technologies have created new challenges for network operations (NetOps) teams. And all of this growth and technology change is causing a huge chasm between the available skilled NetOps resources and the litany of management tasks at hand. All said and done, this growth is proving that traditional device-centric methods of network management do not scale and most NetOps managers would tell you they are simply getting through each day by the “skin of their teeth,” and that most of their network engineers run around with their “hair on fire” each day, with no light at the end of the tunnel. Two job descriptions that should make most managers cringe when they hear them. An original approach is needed, something that fundamentally looks at the network management task at hand in an entirely new way, in top-down fashion, focused on the desired business application results, rather than the individual device details. As a reminder, your customers and constituents see your organization by interacting with your business applications, not tracking packets, traffic, and ports. 

Network Operations is Directly Related to Business Outcomes  

It all starts with service management, which is the currency of IT. In the end, NetOps is measured by the backlog of service tickets. From the simplest ticket to the most complex, there are thousands of tickets to be managed every month in a large enterprise. And each ticket starts with a similar set of time-consuming steps to establish where to look and to test various connectivity conditions to determine what part of the network needs attention. Their backlog and all those repetitive steps not only contribute to extended service disruption times, but also hinders business innovation, which expects the network to perform as the application designers need since the network is indispensable to business today. Simply put, a network that does not function optimally puts an organization at risk for poor customer and employee experiences, resulting in negative bottom-line outcomes. The network must support its business applications. As simple as that sounds, it is often overlooked and at the end of the day, the network may be blinking its lights, but the business may be suffering. This means it is imperative to maintain the proper level of network performance required by every application and respond to any degradations quickly. And when outages or service degradations occur, it is imperative to drive down the mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) to the lowest possible level, eliminating ticket backlog. 

 Intent-Based Automation Provides an Answer  

A major roadblock to network uptime and innovation is the amount of time NetOps spends troubleshooting repetitive problems. NetBrain’s research across hundreds of its own customers has found that 95% of all network problems are of a similar nature, even if the specific devices involved vary widely. The concept of “similar” has not been exploited previously by management suppliers, so these ‘similar’ problems continue to be diagnosed manually as if they have never occurred in the past, and on a device-by-device basis. Additionally, the same research has shown that up to 50% of network problems are preventable, being caused by human error or gradual and unchecked degradation. Most organizations simply lack the ability to continuously test and enforce the business support rules to assure that the network is still supporting the needs of every application. What we can derive from these facts is that many enterprises are stuck in the aforementioned “controlled chaos” mode.   

Breaking the cycle of diagnosing repetitive and preventable network problems requires a deep understanding of the network in real-time. Enterprises seeking to improve their daily service management (Day 2) operations and thus improve network performance and uptime, must understand every detail about the network, its components, its history, and the intended information flow relationship between devices. NetBrain realized that the only way to achieve this real-time understanding is to build a digital twin, or mathematical model, of the network which includes the devices and the relationships of the devices to the delivery of application traffic. So NetBrain invented a digital twin technology which is real-time and forms the basis for automation, remediation, and real-time dynamic mapping of the network. The intelligence of the model is built through continuous network auto-discovery and ingesting of data from third-party tools over time.    

What is Network Intention?  

Network intent is the intended flow of information across your live network – in other words, what performance and business outcomes the network is expected to deliver. The goal of network intent is to set a known baseline for every aspect of the network delivered performance which can be used for comparative purposes. It can be used to trigger automated diagnosis when performance deviates from the designed intent. This is supported by underlying diagnosis logic that is gathered in building the digital twin of the network.  

Intent-Based Automation Must Take a Platform Approach  

Powerful Intent-based automation cannot be assembled from a loose collection of tools. Rather, it requires a purpose-built network-specific platform that connects a real-time digital twin to a no-code automation platform that captures the business intent of all the network components in support of the business applications residing on the network. Having mechanisms for collaboration (for both NetOps and among the wider IT team) leverages the knowledge of your subject matter experts.  And an intent-based platform allows organizations to easily build automations to address the vast majority of every organization’s most common problems at scale! This is especially important given the blurring boundaries between NetOps, CloudOps, SecOps, DevOps, and other IT infrastructure teams.  

Conclusion  

Most common network service tasks are repeated over and over again- if you understand the concept of ‘similar.’  By using the concept of ‘similar,’ NetBrain has proven that most common service needs can be grouped into just a few dozen similar problems, each repeated hundreds, or thousands of times per month. And while every service ticket must be resolved, more than half of the time it takes to resolve every ticket could be eliminated, by simply applying the learnings of previous resolutions using automation. This directly reduces the MTTR of critical network services, decreases service downtime and saves both time and money. Furthermore, with NetBrain, more than half of all network problems and service degradations can actually be identified and corrected long before they begin to impact production, since our digital twin understands both the real-time state of the hybrid network as well as what is expected of it to successfully support business applications. A simple comparison makes short work of it. NetBrain – the leading solution provider for network problem diagnosis automation – is here to help you get started on your intent-based automation transformation journey.   

Author's Bio

Mark Harris

SVP of Global Marketing, NetBrain
Mark Harris has extensive marketing leadership experience within the digital infrastructure segment with a professional career that spans more than 25 years. He joined NetBrain as Senior Vice President of Marketing in 2021 and has held increasingly senior marketing, sales, and channel roles within networking companies, including HP, Extreme, NetScaler, Enterasys, and Pluribus. Mark is a widely followed online contributor and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University.