Intent Based Networking Hype: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

I got very interested in intent based networking a few years ago when the term was relatively unknown. However, in the last year or so the term has been adopted by a variety of networking vendors and applied to technologies that I believe have very little to do with intent based networking.

The term has become part of the current marketing narrative leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many engineers and technical individuals. However, I believe it’s very important to consider that intent based networking is not simply the use of a new buzzword by networking vendors. IBN stands on its own as a new networking paradigm, despite it being hijacked by marketing teams.

Therein lies the problem. Technical people in the industry hear the term thrown around so much that it’s lost its meaning before the technology itself was understood fully. That means that when a particular networking vendor announces their IBN platform or recasts marketing for an existing platform with IBN jargon, we feel it’s all nonsense and therefore intent based networking itself is likewise just a bunch of marketing nonsense.

It’s very important to understand, though, that the term has been hijacked. Intent based networking is a new technology that I believe few understand deeply, but because the term has been hijacked and misapplied, the very idea of true intent based networking has been completely missed.

Intent based networking is not necessarily a platform. It really isn’t a SKU you can order from your favorite networking vendor. It’s a fundamental shift in network operations, and it isn’t simply a massive collection of scripts.

I believe very few companies are actually doing intent based networking, admittedly according to my definition, which means it’s completely illogical to dismiss IBN as a technology simply because vendors are misappropriating the term to suit their marketing narratives.

For example, imagine a bunch of car companies began talking about their latest and greatest electric vehicle technology when in fact their new electric car was nothing more than a standard internal combustion engine vehicle with a small battery in the back doing very little.

Those companies advertising their groundbreaking electric vehicle technology would clearly be misappropriating a popular term to meet a marketing goal. But does that negate electric vehicle technology altogether? Of course not.

Here’s another example. Let’s say my company makes microwaves, and I announce that I have an intent based networking microwave. That’s ridiculous, right? You’d dismiss my marketing as nonsense. But would that mean because the marketing is nonsense that intent based networking is also nonsense? Clearly, no. It would mean yet another company hijacked a buzzword and applied it to their product.

Intent based networking is an actual technological shift in network operations, and it’s irrelevant that so many companies are using the term for marketing purposes. It doesn’t negate the concept of IBN and what the few companies out there are actually doing in that space. It just shows us how far some networking vendors are willing to go to market their products.

Don’t equate the marketing nonsense with the technology. Just because the term has become ubiquitous and cliche doesn’t mean the actual technology itself is fluff.

I feel there’s a general lack of understanding of what IBN is. I think that’s where the disconnect may be. Check out a whitepaper I wrote for Packet Pushers Ignition called “An Introduction to Intent Based Networking” in which I dig into the theory and concepts of IBN. Also keep an eye out for a more technical deep dive coming this spring about how IBN actually works.

When it comes to marketing, I’m right there with my fellow engineers. Buzzwords can water down the meaning of terms and makes them cliche and meaningless. I’m usually quick to dismiss the marketing hype; however, I think it’s important we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Intent based networking is a real technology that deserves some investigation apart from the fact that many vendors have misappropriated the term.



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