Feature Story

The future of networking: intent

by Jason Deign

Cisco leads one of the biggest IT shifts since the invention of the router

Cisco leads one of the biggest IT shifts since the invention of the router.

A high-tech breakthrough led by Cisco is set to transform how networks function in coming years. The Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), for instance, expects the advance will see vital waiting times dropping from months to minutes in 2018. 

The waiting times are not for doctors, but for machines being added to CHLA's network. Until now, adding new machines to CHLA's IT system could take weeks or months because of a need to make sure the kit would work with all the other things on the network. 

In the next few months though, CHLA expects to speed up the process with intent-based networking, the biggest step forward in organizations' networks in decades, spearheaded by network leader Cisco.

"For us, the big pain point is that leading-edge tech comes in and we need to get it deployed straight away, but it often runs on very old systems," says CHLA's Technology Strategist, Marty Miller.

Making sure each device had the right setup and guards in place was a chore, he says. In one instance, it took CHLA's IT team five months to hook up a new electroencephalography machine on the network.

Every day of delay is a day that patients don't benefit from the investment CHLA is making on these new machines. And with the number of machines on the network growing day by day, CHLA's IT team is getting more and more stretched.

See also: New predictive analytics, assurance capabilities advance Cisco's strategy to reinvent the network

That is why CHLA was keen to be one of the first in the world to try intent-based networking.

At CHLA, the hope is that this smarter way of working will let the network do the tough job of setting up new machines on its own. At CHLA, the hope is that this smarter way of working will let the network do the tough job of setting up new machines on its own. The hospital is upgrading 350 switches and 2000 access points across 25 buildings.

Once up and running, the intent-based networking technology will be able to work out what each machine does, based on its MAC address, and apply the right setup routines and use rules itself, in a matter of seconds. 

And it won't just do this with machines used by doctors and nurses, but also with the thousands of mobiles, laptops, and other gadgets that CHLA's med students bring onto the campus every day. 

Further afield, it will also help millions of organizations around the world that are struggling to cope with the growing demands of digitization.

The manual-based network support that IT teams have relied on until today is simply not agile enough to cater for the size and scale of digitized operations. Instead, the network has to be able to work on its own. Take, for instance, an operating system that might be prone to a threat.

In a big firm, locking down each machine with the OS would be a massive task if done by hand. But with intent-based networking, the network could pinpoint all the systems under threat and cut them off within seconds. 

"Intent-based networking systems monitor, identify, and react in real time to changing network conditions," says Gartner, the analyst firm.

Gartner expects thousands of firms will be using the tech by 2020 and getting a big payback in terms of time and cash savings.

See also: Intent-based networking leaps forward with assurance

"We believe a full implementation can reduce network infrastructure delivery times by 50 percent to 90 percent, while simultaneously reducing the number and duration of outages by at least 50 percent," Gartner says.

Ravi Chandrasekaran, Senior Vice President of the Enterprise Networking Business at Cisco, says: "Beyond changing the nature of IT at CHLA, intent-based networking will be key in helping private firms and public-sector bodies around the world to grapple with digitization."

Intent-based networking offers a a significant paradigm shift in how networks are planned, designed and operated. "For the first time," says Chandrasekaran, "we can take a business requirement and translate that into what the network must do."  Networking continues to grow in relevancy, and serves as the platform for the digital business.


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