A primer on closed-loop automation


Recently, I was reading a blog post by Ivan Pepelnjak on intent-based networking. He discusses that the definition of intent is “a usually clearly formulated or planned intention” and the word “intention” is defined as ’what one intends to do or bring about.” I started to ponder over his submission that the definition is confusing as there are many variations.

To guide my understanding, I decided to delve deeper into the building blocks of intent-based networking, which led me to a variety of closed-loop automation solutions. After extensive research, my view is that closed-loop automation is a prerequisite for intent-based networking. Keeping in mind the current requirements, it’s a solution that the businesses can deploy. 

Now that I have examined different vendors, I would recommend gazing from a bird’s eye view, to make sure the solution overcomes today’s business and technical challenges. The outputs should drive a future-proof solution.

Core business & technical challenges

Today’s changing environment presents a number of business challenges. IT organizations want to stay agile, ensuring consistency of the infrastructure while retaining the ability to support brownfield and multi-vendor deployments.

IT organizations rarely depend on one vendor. Besides, due to the large investment made in existing infrastructures, few have the option to go with the greenfield deployment. The majority of networks consist of a number of domains; either branch, campus, or data center. Therefore, we have three places to store the data. Within each of these domains, the deployment of silo automation solutions surfaces many technical problems.

The explosion of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), streaming media and 5G results in networking becoming a big data problem. There are so many small devices. All with different types create complexity in scale. Business problems are combined with a number of technical complexities. Although the business requirements define the urgency of the solution upon implementation, there will be technical challenges.

The variety and volume of data are changing across multiple devices. For example, a router may have NetFlow, sFlow records, and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). The configuration data can be collected via NETCONF or Command Line Interface (CLI), all of which demand varying frequencies. 

Newer devices use model-driven streaming telemetry. Instead of polling, the devices push operational data based on either open standards or proprietary mechanisms. Without being locked to a specific vendor, administrators require extensibility along with the ability to customize the solution by themselves.


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