AI and IBN: Preparing your network for the future

Cisco’s inaugural report on global networking trends shows that today’s IT networks are becoming increasingly unmanageable by traditional means. The solution to modernization could lie in artificial intelligence, automation and intent-based networking.

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It’s out: Cisco’s inaugural report on the state of the network. And the 2020 Global Network Trends survey of more than 2,000 IT leaders and network strategists uncovered that the No. 1 priority—drum roll, please—is maximizing the business value of IT.

That’s higher than other priorities such as simplifying operations and optimizing productivity, according to Cisco. But what exactly does that mean? Perhaps more interesting is how they plan to maximize business value—and it comes down to the evolution of the network.

The Internet just turned 50. In many ways, it’s hard to remember life before the Internet, but it’s also hard to believe it’s so old. But as the Internet continues to evolve, and as businesses and entire industries undergo digital transformation, the network, too, is in the midst of an evolution.

Breaking through the status quo

Cisco asked 505 IT leaders and 1,566 network strategists across 13 countries about the state of their networks and how they plan to invest. To reach the lofty goal of ‘maximizing the business value of IT,’ respondents say they’re investing in technologies such as artificial intelligence and intent-based networking (IBN).

They’re doing this, in part, because traditional networks force them to be reactive, not proactive. They’re spending too much time operating in silos and maintaining the status quo; some are dealing with a skills gap. They need more insight into data and better tools to make sense of those insights.

“AI will help IT break the cycle of maintaining the status quo. By embracing predictive analytics and AI-based operations, IT teams will pivot from being consumed with maintaining the status quo to becoming an enabler of new business innovation,” says Scott Harrell, SVP and GM of Cisco Enterprise Networking, in a release.

Embracing AI and IBN

And it seems many respondents are ready to embrace AI and automation. The Cisco survey found that:

  • almost 50 per cent believe “increasing the use of analytics and AI will help enable the ideal network”
  • 72 per cent plan to “achieve AI-enabled predictive insights or prescriptive remediation within the next two years”
  • 94 per cent believe they’ll have an SD-WAN in two years, and 47% of SD-WAN owners plan to have an AI-optimized WAN in two years

Software-defined networking provides a foundation for intent-based networking—the concept of managing a network from end-to-end with a single, unified interface, using DevOps and SDN. To date, not many companies can claim they’ve moved beyond software-defined to ‘intent-based.’ But of the respondents surveyed, 35 per cent expect to be fully intent-based within the next two years.

While Cisco has a vested interest in promoting IBN, “Cisco’s findings suggest IBN will be the next ‘IT girl’ of networking in the coming years—essentially the second phase of SDN,” says Sydney Sawaya, associate editor of SDxCentral, in a blog post. And, she adds, Cisco expects “IBN to pick up where SDN left off.”

Preparing for an uncertain future

Investing in modernization will become increasingly necessary. As Cisco’s Harrell sums up in a blog post about the survey results: “The rapidly learning and evolving infrastructure of tomorrow will not be manageable using yesterday’s tools. Even today, as confirmed by our Report’s survey respondents, networks are becoming unmanageable by traditional means.”

He says the report’s results also show that networking has “taken its first steps into a new realm, the ultimate impact of which is difficult to forecast.” Underpinning it all is AI.

So if it’s difficult to forecast where we’re going in this new realm, how do you get started? Cisco has a handy IBN assessment tool that can show you where your organization is at today.

Maybe it starts with developing an SD-WAN strategy; maybe you’re already there and looking toward an AI-optimized WAN. Or maybe you’re building a foundation for intent-based networking, even if you’re not planning to be fully intent-based in the next two years.

The ultimate impact may be difficult to forecast, but the status quo isn’t an option.

To learn more about Allstream’s SD-WAN product, click here.

Images: gremlin/iStock

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