Intent-Based Networking (IBN) and automation are key success ingredients that need to be present in any modern network. These have recently been the center of attention of many, if not all, Service Providers. The force driving these concepts to be implemented has always been present, although not as strong as today. New applications hitting the market and driving new revenue have led CSP (communication service provider) stakeholders to consider new ways of building networks and services using proven, highly efficient technology to support highly ambitious end-customer applications such as Massive IoT, self-driving vehicles, and remote surgery, to name a few. The 5th generation of mobile networks, 5G, is a perfect example of a major evolution in network architecture and services in order to meet service demands.
Given that the nature of the new 5G architecture is open and virtualized in most parts, operational challenges become even more pronounced than in previous, somewhat fixed, networks. Automation becomes a necessity for these complex network architectures. With automation comes the natural question of “what?” What should be automated and what technologies should be used to enable a fully automated operation?
The problem of enabling a fully automated network has existed for quite a while. For data center networks, this problem has been studied and somewhat solved using micro-services architectures and automation tools that rely on scripting CLIs. However, for service provider networks, because the applications were somewhat identical in terms of requirements, service level requirements were easy to fulfill with a fixed, single vendor, network architecture. Although multi-vendor networks existed, the “multi-vendor” characteristic for a network was never a sought-after goal because of difficult to solve automation problems. However, multi-vendor networks became a necessity in many cases as legacy systems reach EOL and new requirements can’t be met by a single vendor. With the heterogeneity of services involved at each 5G domain level (Access, Core, Transport, DC, Cloud), a Service Provider’s best interest is to keep their vendor options open. Vendor A, Vendor B, and Vendor C should be able to play a role in a single network. As a result, interoperability becomes very important for achieving automation. Our experience with Cisco NSO (Network Services Orchestrator) has shown that network programmability is the key piece of the solution for managing multi-vendor networks.
Automating operations in a heterogeneous, multi-vendor network can best be achieved using standards-based programmable management interfaces such as NETCONF and RESTCONF in combination with a data modeling language such as YANG. Heterogenous networks must be built with 3rd party system interoperability in mind. Standards-based programmable management interfaces and data model-driven management become a key factor if we want to achieve interoperability. Intent-Based Networking (IBN) is an architecture that promises to achieve fully automated operation. The core concept of IBN is the “intent”. An intent-based operation is implemented by extracting “intent” descriptions and implementing intent mapping logic at each network level using programmability. By leveraging IBN, one can achieve a fully-automated 5G network based on programmability. A 5G service that employs several domains and may involve multiple service provider networks, can efficiently be managed if each one of its “partitions” implements an intent-based architecture and uses a standard programmable data model-driven API based on NETCONF or RESTCONF and YANG.
To dig deeper into this topic, we have written a whitepaper “Programmability in 5G Networks” that discusses how automation is achieved using programmability in 5G networks.