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What Potential is in Healthcare Intent-Based Networking, Automation?

Healthcare intent-based networking can assist with network monitoring using automation to simplify mundane tasks and better support IT staff.

healthcare intent-based networking

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations are constantly looking for ways to fortify network security. Healthcare intent-based networking (IBN) can help give organizations a more dynamic approach to network security as more devices are added to the health IT infrastructure. 

“Intent-based networking is a piece of networking software that helps to plan, design and implement/operate networks that can improve network availability and agility.  Another way to describe it would be lifecycle management software for networking infrastructure,” according to Gartner’s Andrew Lerner.  

IBN simplifies the process of changing or upgrading the network by verifying that the outcome matches the action’s original intent. The simplification will also relieve IT staff because routine tasks can be automated to match business objectives.

Gartner explains that IBN includes four characteristics:

  1. Translation and Validation– The system takes a higher-level business policy (what) as input from end users and converts it to the necessary network configuration (how). The system then generates and validates the resulting design and configuration for correctness.
  2. Automated Implementation – The system can configure the appropriate network changes (how) across existing network infrastructure. This is typically done via network automation and/or network orchestration.
  3. Awareness of Network State – The system ingests real-time network status for systems under its administrative control, and is protocol- and transport-agnostic.
  4. Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation– The system continuously validates (in real time) that the original business intent of the system is being met, and can take corrective actions (such as blocking traffic, modifying network capacity or notifying) when desired intent is not met.

IBN is relatively new and one of the biggest questions organizations are asking is whether IBN is needed when software-defined networking (SDN) is already widely deployed.

SDN uses virtualization to remove the intelligent management software from network hardware. By doing so, SDN creates a centralized, more intelligent, and easier managed network architecture.  SDN allows network administrators to manage the network through abstraction, which gives apps and programs a simplified platform to operate on. 

The distinction between IBN and SDN is that IBN helps organizations plan, design, and implement their networks while SDN is architecture for networks. IBN drives a network that can be either SDN-based or not, according to Gartner’s IBN FAQ page.

Another question is whether IBN will replace people because of its use of automation. Gartner noted that it’s unlikely IBN will eliminate the need for IT staff for network monitoring. Automation will take the place of mundane and everyday tasks, leaving IT staff to tend to bigger and more proactive issues.

“There will be less reactive trouble tickets but more proactive notifications to be tended to,” Garter explained. “Also, with the impending explosion of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, we will need a better way to manage environments, because current manual and non-automated practices likely won’t scale. Intent certainly helps here.”

IBN is still relatively new and is not expected to become mainstream until 2020. But it’s important for organizations to be aware of the technology and potential because IBN implementation will change the way the network is operated. It takes time to prepare for a change on that scale.

“If you think about changing the way you operate your entire network to Intent-based overnight or even within the next year, it feels like a “boil-the-ocean” exercise,” said Gartner. “Instead, think of Intent coming in pockets or use cases. So maybe next year, it is the new data center pod, and then after that, it becomes the new way to manage WAN devices, and so on. So in 5 years, maybe 60% of your network is intent-driven.” 

Healthcare organizations need to be aware of upcoming technologies that can potentially simplify IT infrastructure processes. The automation aspect of IBN makes it an appealing choice for future network monitoring because it allows IT to spend more time on more meaningful tasks.

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