Cisco gives intent-based networking a third leg to stand on

Behold, the Assurance Engine to make sure networks are following the rules

Cisco’s delivered the missing piece of its intent-based networking (IBN) vision and is therefore ready to stand its ground as software-defined networking upstarts try to paint it as a dinosaur.

When Switchzilla introduced the vision in mid-2017 it explained that automation was at its core – the company wanted networks that could be told what to do and then went and did that. The plan called for three things: a policy engine, analytics and monitoring.

Cisco already had the policy piece in place in the form of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), the software-defined networking product that allows propagation of traffic flow and security policies across different networks. Cisco describes ACI as the tool you use to write your intent.

The next piece is monitoring and Cisco enhanced its Tetration analytics tool to do that: it can now observe past network behaviour and recommend how you could configure it to get what you want.

The last piece is what Cisco calls an “Assurance Engine”, new software that monitors networks to ensure they’re doing all the things ACI told them to do and Tetration tweaked. The software offers real-time verification that all is going to plan, which Cisco feels is likely to be more useful than occasional audits. There’s also a network modelling tool that lets users replicate their networks and play with the resulting simulator to see if planned changes will make life difficult or see the network’s performance diverge from plans.

White boxes

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Cisco’s belief is that Assurance further advances its mission to make networks more automated, less susceptible to human errors and more performant.

The proof of that pudding will be in the eating. More certain is that the Assurance Engine advances Cisco’s march into subscription services and software: you’ll need to be an ACI user to get it working at all and there’s a software subscription to sign up for too.

For now you’ll also need another product called DNA Center Assurance that pipes information from the Engine into Cisco’s cloudy DNA Center networking monitoring tool, which is available as part of the ONE subscription offer.

At least you’ll be spared new hardware: the Nexus 9000 series switches are ready for duty alongside the Assurance Engine.

Take that, white boxers

Switchzilla is thrilled that it has a full IBN suite in the market.

And that’s a pretty big deal, because it’s Cisco’s main response to software-defined networking (SDN). The company feels that between the Assurance Engine, Tetration and ACI it can match SDN upstarts, but without users having to employ the kinds of netadmins who can recite packet headers in their sleep. The company hopes that its users will therefore see that the significant effort required to adopt pure-play SDN with white box kit probably offers poor rewards compared to adopting IBN with kit they know and understand.

Cisco expects that argument will play well with its core users, but also knows that some really big network operators will find good reasons to go full SDN. Losing the odd colossus will hurt, but if Cisco can convince the bulk of its current customers to come with along for the IBN ride, it will have plenty of company.

At this point The Register imagines readers who consider themselves core Cisco customers will point out that they are not ACI users and have no plan to become one any time soon. Cisco’s got you covered there: the company told us it plans to bring the Assurance Engine to environments beyond ACI in the future. ®

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