BTEX 2021: How to Run Your Network Like Bilbo Baggins

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“We named our session ‘There and Back Again’ and yes, this is a reference to The Hobbit,” says Puneet Duggal, Field Solution Architect, speaking at CDW’s BTEX 2021 virtual event. “This is also our role as IT professionals; understanding, securing and optimizing how data flows to and from where it needs to go.”

“In The Hobbit, a Hobbit-hole is a place of comfort. That is where we as engineers find ourselves. We’re doing the same things in the same ways over and again. But how much has been changing in the IT industry? Your network needs to change to keep up. Without modernizing what, where and how you’re building and operating, your network is going to be bottlenecking the performance of what you’re trying to do.”

How network technology changed in 2021

“The last year and a half has been like never before,” says Duggal. “We went from an office-centric model to a remote-centric model, and had to do that in days or weeks. Virtualization changed everything. You’re able to do so much more with the same physical hardware. But now, cloud has changed things even more.”

And with the migration to the cloud, comes increased security risks. “Our customers are constantly asking themselves, ‘How secure is secure enough?’”

What does intent-based networking mean, and how is it different from software-defined networking?

“I’m very excited about intent-based networking, because it promises to increase network availability and agility,” says Damian Alfonso-Robaina, Field Solution Architect at CDW. “These are two key elements for organizations to succeed in the digital transformation journey.”

“Intent-based networking is an evolution from software-defined networking (SDN). SDN already transformed the network from hardware-centric to software-centric. Intent-based networking is built on the same principles and includes most of the benefits and characteristics of SDN, like policy-based systems, API-based communications and controller-led architecture. But intent-based networking goes further, and it adds awareness and assurance.”

“If we use machine learning capabilities to get real-time, granular visibility of what is happening in the network at all times, and combine these with automation and AI, we can have assurance, which takes remediation actions to make sure the network is configured, and working as it is intended to. And all this with a policy-based system that is inherited from software-defined networking.”

“In a nutshell, intent-based networking will take business intent, and translate it to policies that can be automated and consistently applied to network devices and infrastructure.”

Business benefits of intent-based networking

Intent-based networking has been identified as one of the top IT solutions for the near future, and the next big thing in networking, says Alfonso-Robaina. “It can dramatically transform network operations by continuously monitoring the network, and has the ability to predict future events.”

“These will give IT operations teams the ability to move from a reactive approach to a more proactive and predictive approach with faster problem-solving, faster direct containment and continuous compliance, while reducing risk, downtime and optimizing IT operations, which will drive business efficiencies. The IT team will spend less time doing manual, device-by-device configuration, chasing and fixing problems in a break/fix model and will have more time for tasks that will enable business.”

Can you manage your campus, data centre and the cloud as one network?

“The main goal is to get to that multidomain integration,” says Alfonso-Robaina. “Traditionally, the network has been divided in areas. It follows a modular design where we build solutions for areas that focus on specific requirements that sometimes are even unique for each of these areas. It makes sense and is more efficient that way. But because the business objectives and goals are enterprise-wide, the benefits from intent-based networking are more impactful when they are applied consistently across the whole network architecture and all the domains.”

“Now, the most important solution providers are trying to build correlations of data between these domains when intent-based networking is implemented on each domain. This correlation of data includes access, policies, identities, SLAs, and the idea is that we could take a policy that would integrate all these elements to be defined once and applied for each of these domains consistently.”

Intent-based networking also changes how data moves across the network. “With SDN, we used southbound APIs to talk to a network device and to control those network devices. Northbound APIs have been used for communication with orchestration tools, monitoring tools. And now we can use the API-based communication east-west to create that correlation of data between the different controllers. This is important to create that multidomain integration.”

Using an example from a healthcare organization, Alfonso-Robaina states that “A hospital will have different applications in the data centre; HR applications, electronic medical records, medical images. Then we have medical devices, IoT, patients, visitors, HR staff who could be accessing applications or printing documents. And the doctors and nurses that need to access those electronic medical records.”

“So the business intent in this case will be to guarantee secure and privileged access for those doctors and nurses to the electronic medical records in the data centre and the network, be able to create those secure assets, and pass that information across to prioritize and secure that traffic and get to the data centre.”

Alfonso-Robaina says that CDW has been helping customers go from a manual-centric approach to the self-driving network of the future. “We try to take customers on this journey so they can move from where they have silos, hardware-centric, device-by-device, manual configuration of visibility, to where they can get to an intent-based approach.”

How to update networks for the future

 “As teams start moving to private and public cloud models, you want to start focusing on ways to minimize complexity and provide the performance needed with increased visibility so that you can have assurance,” says Duggal. “A device-by-device approach that uses applied, specific command line interface does not scale for a distributed, dynamic environment that we have today.”

“By treating infrastructure like software, using infrastructure as code, you’re able to define consistent ways to provision, configure and deploy infrastructure. You really had to learn different languages for the campus, branch and data centre, different security projects and even the cloud. Investing time to learn a programming language allows you to use that language from now on to be much more agile in your technology domains across all of those changes that are required.”

This is where DevOps comes into play. “The main objective of DevOps is to increase efficiency by encouraging collaboration and communication between teams,” says Duggal. “Making manual changes in network infrastructure wastes time and increases the possibility of human errors. Infrastructure as code applies DevOps practices to ensure automation scripts are free from errors.”

“Network automation can align networking with IT operations and tools enabling the network workflow to be much more agile. Network automation includes automating the management, configuration, testing and deployment of virtual and physical devices within a network to a software-based approach to architecture to increase your reliability.”

Can a modern network be applied to a smaller business?

“We’re not all running Google data centres,” admits Duggal. “We need to take a look at who are we, what systems are we running and how can we make the right decisions?”

“At the same time, these trends exist for a reason. They’re happening in the industry, they’re things that you’re thinking ‘Hey, it would be great to have this.’ We’re seeing that our manufacturing partners are building this intelligence under the hood, taking decades of experience and having the machines operate themselves in this intelligent manner. And what you’re seeing is a simple, GUI-based solution that allows you to just point and click. So if you can do online shopping, you can manage a complex global network now. It is becoming that simple.”

How CDW can help clients achieve digital transformation

“CDW is uniquely positioned to help organizations address the complex requirements for their digital transformation,” says Duggal. “Our approach helps clients achieve maximum value throughout the process, and as quickly as possible. To us, success with digital transformation requires a strategic partnership. We help our clients define what transformation means for their organization, simplify the complexity by orchestrating a comprehensive solution that meets each client’s specific goals and needs through the combination of our strengths – your teams’ and ours.”

“To borrow from The Lord of the Rings, it’s like in the great stories, the ones that really matter, full of darkness and danger. This is the unknown of distributed data, automation, convergence with security. No one is a master of everything. Even if you do not understand some of it yet, you can bring value to your infrastructure, your operations and your business to enable growth.

“Digital transformation will bring good to this world,” Duggal concludes. “New technology and ways of operating your infrastructure are worth learning about and utilizing.”

So, one network to rule them all – and in the darkness, bind them.

To learn more about how CDW can help you create efficiencies, drive growth and enhance your bottom line, visit CDW.ca/digitaltransformation. And be sure to bookmark this page for more coverage of BTEX 2021.

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