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Prepare now for intent-based networking

From the internet of things to mobile devices and apps, the number of devices government agencies connect to their networks continues to increase. To manage the complexity and security risks these devices introduce to existing networks, agencies must find ways to simplify operations and automate tasks.

One way is is through intent-based networking, a technology that allows a network administrator to specify a desired network state through automation and software-defined methodologies. It puts a layer between all the parts of a network’s infrastructure and the users who want to access them, shifting work away from overloaded admins, who can then proactively define how their networks should operate. This technology is relatively new, but it’s poised to become a standard practice.

Benefitting business goals

Intent-based networking aligns IT networks with business needs, simplifies operations and increases security. Benefits range from saving time and limiting redundant tasks through automation to creating a centralized management system to develop and enforce consistent network policies. One key advantage is that it allows agencies to be more efficient with resources. By allocating some tasks to machines, people can focus their time and energy on areas where they can have a greater impact to further the agency’s mission.

The technology also helps agencies modernize by removing the need for employees to develop a new set of skills for each technology update. For example, a generational change between networks might involve a host of new protocols and features. IT staff would have to spend weeks, months or even years learning how to configure, manage and maintain the new systems. But with intent-based networking in place, the team might only need to use one set of configurations or troubleshooting tools so they can quickly move forward with implementation.

Preparing for an intent-based networking future

Agencies can begin taking steps now to leverage this innovative and instinctive technology. Here are three ways federal agencies can lay the foundation for intent-based networking:

Step 1: Understand the requirements, including how business policies work within the agency and how the mission operates. Identify the most critical pieces of the infrastructure and applications. Leverage visibility tools to see what solutions are currently being used on the network and where the pain points lie to begin formulating a network roadmap.

Step 2: Build out the network roadmap. The roadmap will help identify how each technology investment aligns with agency goals. Identify the areas that will need investment over the next five years in order to have a fully operational intent-based network. It should address issues ranging from ensuring current cable systems can support next-gen technology to  future budgets that plan for time and investments in hardware and software. A solid roadmap will ensure success when developing and deploying the new network, keeping the agency on track throughout the process.

Step 3: Begin to implement intent-based networking principles on a small scale. Consider deployment first in a small, remote office or a subset of a floor where, if any problems occur, they can be resolved quickly and not cause broader issues. Alternatively, implement in the access layer first, which is often resilient and where changes are less likely to impact network stability.

Intent-based networking will transform the future of government networks. By laying the groundwork now, agencies can be ready to reap the benefits in the years to come.

About the Author

Eric Stuhl is director of enterprise networks and security at Force 3.

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