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The Intent For Intent.

Mar 5, 2015
Marc Cohn
Marc Cohn About the author

Marc Cohn looks back on the recent Intent-Based Summit for SDx Central

Last week, Dave Lenrow posted an excerpt from his SDx Central article that elaborated on intent-driven networking, which broadened awareness about one of the most important SDN aspects that is quickly catching on in the industry. Building on that background knowledge, I shared my thoughts on the Intent-Based Summit and the approach’s overall future impact with SDx Central. Below is a portion of that article, the full version of which can be read here.

In order to realize the vision for software-defined networking (SDN), applications must be liberated from the underlying network details to attain the degree of openness operators are seeking for cloud, data center, enterprise, or carrier networks. This will only be possible through abstraction – enabling applications to yield the portability and agility the industry has been striving for.

Ultimately, abstraction allows controller developers to publish a common API framework for network and business application developers to utilize. Application developers are then spared from the complexities of integrating their applications with each controller, and operators would be afforded the choice they are seeking to avoid vendor lock-in, while the need for a proliferation of “glue” software that has limited incremental value is also removed.

Of course, the real world is never that simple, not when it comes to networking. Nowhere is the bar higher than for application-to-network integration. However, industry groups, led by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), have leapt at the challenge, forming the Northbound Interface working group. The open-source community was motivated as well, with both OpenDaylight and ONOS, open-source controller frameworks devoting significant resources to the controller-to-application interface.

Individual companies also responded with innovative work, such as Plexxi’s Affinity API framework (contributed to OpenDaylight). Early SDN innovators have developed their own northbound API to ship early SDN products, and their progress has helped simplify application and network management integration across their own disparate platforms and bootstrap important work in the ONF, OpenStack, OpenDaylight, IETF, etc.

However, the common API framework serving the needs of operators, applications developers, and controller developers remains elusive.

A recent gathering hosted by HP Labs in Palo Alto offered encouraging signs for the broad industry collaboration required to address the industry’s most significant challenges. About 70 individuals participated in the Intent-based Summit, the name referring to a an application’s desire to express its intent, independent of whatever network infrastructure on which it will be running. David Lenrow (HP), chair of the ONF Northbound Working Group, contributed a companion article in SDxCentral that describes intent-based networking in more detail.

The Summit was among the first meetings of its kind, attracting broad representation across SDN and NFV industry groups, standards, and open source projects. The primary goal was to initiate a rallying cry for the industry to set aside their different approaches, competitive positions, and internal objectives for the benefit of the network operators that they are serving.

No one expected an issue this complex and important to be addressed during the day-and-a-half Summit. However, the sense of collaboration, urgency, and openness did surprise some, and after the major players shared their story, many misunderstandings were overcome.

For the rest of this article, read “The Intent for Intent: Notes from the Recent Intent-Based Summit” at SDx Central.

- Marc Cohn, senior director of market development at Ciena and ONF Market Area director

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Marc Cohn