Delivering on Intent

Network automation is high on the agenda for digitally-ambitious organisations. Apstra co-founder and CEO Mansour Karam presents a compelling argument for self-operation and ‘intent-based networking’

Digital transformation is complex. When businesses lay out their plans to upend established strategies, they have countless factors to consider. It is, after all, a transformation.

For those serious about driving real change, there are no shortcuts. The disruptive technologies of our time are best deployed from the bottom up – and in unison. Only then will enterprises give themselves the opportunity to realise the huge operational advances promised by the headlines.

The spine of any digitally-enabled organisation is its network. But as they become more and more complex thanks to distributed data and the Internet of Things, network management now presents challenges. This has led to companies increasingly turning to automation solutions over manual techniques.
Mansour Karam, CEO at Apstra, believes network automation is fast becoming a critical driver for digital transformation and expects it to follow a similar trajectory to cloud.

“Organisations have digital transformation initiatives which reach into every aspect of their business. But you cannot digitally transform if, at the foundation of your infrastructure, your network is operated manually,” he tells Digital Bulletin.

“Essentially, your infrastructure will not be able to keep up with the needs of your business. The comparison there is the public cloud. If you see the level of agility and flexibility that is available in public cloud, it sets the standard for infrastructure teams in terms of what capabilities they need to deliver and at what cost.

“A fundamental component to make this happen is network automation; powerful network automation that enables agility, flexibility and cost-effectiveness.”

Automation is possible for any type of network, from local and wide-area to those powered by the data centre. It also underpins software-defined and virtualised networks, helping to deliver user benefits that include improved efficiency, lower costs and a reduced likelihood of human error.
Apstra, which Stanford alumnus Karam co-founded in 2014, exists in this space but approaches automation from a fresh angle. AOS, its flagship product for automating data centre networks, is software for ‘intent-based networking’, or IBN. Still a relatively new concept, with IBN the product reacts to the user’s intentions for its architecture, rather than defining it.

“The user is no longer speaking in the language of the hardware devices that they are configuring; they’re managing their infrastructure through one system as opposed to a bunch of components. What they are describing is the service they would like this infrastructure to deliver on,” expands Karam.
Apstra claims to be the pioneer of the IBN approach. In the last two years, big names like Cisco, Huawei and Wipro have put forward their own propositions but Karam believes his company’s offering is unique in the data centre market.

AOS distinguishes itself in two ways, according to its CEO. Firstly, its distributed data store gives visibility into telemetry, configuration and incident data throughout the network and in real-time, offering flexibility across the infrastructure. This creates what Karam calls a ‘continuous validation loop’, where operators can quickly conclude whether or not the network is delivering.