SD-WAN vendor VeloCloud this week announced a set of capabilities it calls Outcome-Driven Networking. These capabilities aim to tie automation to business outcomes and reduce the manual configuration required to set up and maintain network services.
While VeloCloud doesn’t use the term “intent-based networking”, the messaging certainly aligns with the emerging intent category.
Regardless of what it’s called, the concept makes sense. It starts with high-level business requirements; for example, “Prioritize voice traffic at all branches.”
Rather than have an administrator tinker with QoS settings and CLI commands, VeloCloud says its orchestration system can automatically configure, monitor, and enforce policies between its Edge devices and cloud Gateways to ensure that the business or the end user gets the outcome they wanted.
The company touts its capabilities to transform high-level requirements into fine-grained policies that don’t require a lot of manual work such as setting up VLANs to isolate different traffic types and enforce policies.
One such capability is Policy-Driven Segmentation, which is designed to automate the segmentation and prioritization of different kinds of traffic.
For example, at a retail branch IT might want to isolate PCI-related traffic generated by Point of Sale devices from other corporate traffic, as well as create a separate segment for in-store guest WiFi traffic.
Network administrators can define granular policies per segment in the VeloCloud Orchestrator, and then apply those policies to the appropriate branches.
The orchestrator then works in concert with VeloCloud’s Edge and cloud-based Gateway devices to make the necessary configurations to put traffic into their appropriate segments.
VeloCloud says its system has enough smarts to distinguish between a retail employee using Office365 and a guest user who happens to be getting a little work done on their own Office365 account while shopping.
The employee’s traffic will be directed onto the corporate segment, which may also be configured for performance priority over the guest WiFi, while the guest user’s traffic is directed to the guest segment.
VeloCloud, which supports BGP and OSPF in its Edge and Gateway devices, gives administrators and operators the option to see the actual routing configurations that have happened under the covers. This is a useful feature for those who might want to double check what’s going on, and to help administrators and operators get more comfortable with the system.
What’s In A Name?
Intent-based networking is an emerging nomenclature for a set of ideas and capabilities that, like SDN before it, will generate claims, counter-claims, accusations, hand-waving, and, eventually, exhaustion and capitulation.
I first came across use of the term “intent” in talking with startups such as Veriflow and Forward Networks, which make software to ensure that the network state as it’s actually configured right now is the network state you meant it to be.
I also heard it from startups such as Apstra and Anuta Networks that develop software to automate and orchestrate the configuration of a variety of third-party systems to make those systems deliver a service that meets business needs.
In relatively short order, legacy vendors such as Cisco also adopted the term, which raised the ire of at least one startup.
So who gets to define intent-based networking (or outcome-based networking, or whatever) and lay claim to it? The cold truth is that anyone with a marketing budget and a Web site can.
(Not to make him the arbiter, but Phil Gervasi offers a good high-level explanation in this YouTube video.)
Vendors are going to shift, stretch, and tug at intent until it’s a shapeless term that can be draped over anything. This is an irritating fact about our industry. And if you’re a company that has invested serious time and energy to develop something new and interesting, it sucks to see other companies casually glom onto it.
But this always happens when someone articulates a vision that sounds great–a new product that will let users or the business do X faster, more easily, and without having to ask a bunch of grumpy nerds.
Automation, orchestration, and abstraction are worming their way into every layer of the infrastructure. Some vendors are going to do these things well, and some are going to do them badly.
What does it mean for you, the potential customer?
It means the same thing as always. You have to read, research, and talk with your peers. You have to take a risk and pick a few vendors, and then bring them in to make them prove they can deliver.
It would be nice if vendors were honest and straightforward about their capabilities. But the rule is always caveat emptor.
Back To VeloCloud
I asked VeloCloud if they were aware of intent-based networking as a category, and why they chose outcome-driven networking (ODN). Here’s what Rachna Srivastava, Director of Product Marketing, said in an email:
“Yes, we are aware of the intent-based networking category. VeloCloud ODN is based on the principles of intent-based networking as defined by Gartner. While intent-based networking covers a wider domain of technologies and proposes a multi-vendor solution, and touches multiple device types, VeloCloud Outcome Driven Networking applies to SD-WAN.”
In other words, our product shares similar principles of intent, but we don’t meet a working definition, so we’ll call it something else. I can respect that.
VeloCloud has articulated a vision for making network operations easier within the realm of SD-WAN. That’s a good vision, so who cares what you call it?
If that vision resonates with you, then it’s up to VeloCloud to prove it can execute and deliver.