An Intent-Based Future: Forecasting the Emergence of IBN

MAY 13, 2019

by Sam Fangman, Trace3 Research Analyst

Popularized by Gartner in 2017, the term ‘Intent-Based Networking’ (IBN) bounced around the IT community ever since. In its infancy, IBN was more of a broad concept, with the specifics of how to enact the vision still in flux. While there was consensus IBN would be central to the future of networking, a major obstacle lay in the disagreement on what exactly constitutes IBN. IBN is networking software used to plan, design, implement, and operate networks. The main goal of IBN is to improve network availability and agility in an automated fashion.

In 2017, Gartner provided a set of criteria to define an IBN solution.

  1. Translation and Validation – At a high level, IBN solutions take a general intent or business policy and configure/validates the network to meet that intent.
  2. Automated Implementation – IBN solutions must be able to configure network changes across an existing network by means of network orchestration or automation.
  3. Awareness of Network State – IBN solutions ingest real-time network status data to ensure accurate awareness of network state for systems administration.
  4. Assurance and Dynamic Optimization/Remediation – IBN solutions must continuously validate and verify the execution of the original business intent. If an issue is detected, IBN solutions can take corrective action to restore the intended network behavior.

The emergence of IBN in the two years since has been strongly correlated with the development of Machine Learning (ML) practices over that same time period. That is no coincidence, as IBN solutions rely heavily on ML for the ability to learn baseline network behavior when enforcing a business policy. Another driver for the emergence of IBN is the lack of quality in network tools needed to analyze and configure enterprise networks. Network configurations are still largely handled via a manual CLI approach, which is a tedious process highly susceptible to human error. IBN solutions alleviate this by focusing on business policies rather than infrastructure specific configurations.

Gartner predicted IBN would not be a mainstream technology before 2020. Now approaching that target, the market is primed for growth, with IoT-influenced enterprise networks becoming larger and more complex. Managing the network with these countless devices will be difficult without IBN. Additionally, as software defined networking (SDN) continues to gain traction, IBN will be able to co-exist and enhance these networks, as IBN solutions can drive both SDN and non-SDN networks.

Trace3 Research Market Forecast

Trace3 envisions three potential scenarios unfolding over the next four years in the IBN market (see figure below). According to a forecast from Market Search Future, the IBN market was valued at $634.5M in 2017. This data point was used at the starting point for the three scenarios. All forecasted values have been rounded to the nearest hundred million.

Source: Trace3 Research


1.High Growth (CAGR = ~40%)

Confidence: 15%

According to a forecast from Market Search Future, the IBN market was projected to grow from $634.5 M in 2017 to $4.9 B in 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40%. This forecast was optimistic for good reason when it was first made in 2017 as Intent-Based Networking had gained tremendous momentum from the content produced by Gartner and Cisco earlier in the year. Additionally, in the past five years, the VC community had provided approximately $55M in funding to some of the emerging players (Forward Networks, Mode, Veriflow, Itential, Apstra), including just under $40M in the two most recent years. However, since 2017, there has been minimal VC funding to any of the emerging players, with the exception of Mode in 2018. This likely is due to the technology functionality lagging the expectations set by the initial momentum. As a result, it seems highly unlikely this high growth outcome will occur. For this outcome to be achieved, the functionality of the IBN tools must become more robust and reliable to properly drive networks.

2.Medium Growth (CAGR = ~30%)

Confidence: 60%

A report from Research and Markets in 2019 forecasted a slightly lower growth rate, with the market reaching $4.1B by 2024 ($3.1B by 2023) at a CAGR of 30%. This forecast appears to have corrected for some of the optimism of the Market Search Future report. A Google Trends search on Intent-Based Networking supports this correction, as the popularity of the term reached a peak in early 2018 before entering a period of fluctuation, never fully returning to that previous level of momentum.

Source: Google Trends


Trace3 views this scenario with higher confidence, appearing as a probable baseline for the future of the IBN market, likely to occur even if the functionality of the tools remains slightly behind the initial expectations. Many of the players offer significant added value to clients for tedious tasks such as network mapping and ‘what-if’ analyses. While their ceiling is likely lower than that of fully autonomous IBN, these tools have a high potential to drive market growth.

3.Low Growth (CAGR = ~20%)

Confidence: 25%

There is also a possible scenario where IBN technology fails to obtain widespread market adoption and market growth is significantly slower than forecasted. For this to occur, technological advances in the IBN space would have to halt and significantly fall behind market expectations. If IBN solutions are not able to offer easier and more efficient network control than standard network automation solutions (Ansible, Puppet, Salt, etc.), new customers will not be motivated to adopt the new technology. Alternatively, the emergence of new competing technologies such as autonomous, self-healing networks that do not require a supplied intent could lead to this low growth outcome. Trace3 doubts this outcome will occur, given emerging IBN vendors continue to see relative momentum in the market and IBN is inherently compatible and congruent with other networking technologies, such as SDN. It is also important to note this is still a rapid growth rate, even though it is classified as ‘Low’ in comparison to the other scenarios.

Who are the players in the IBN market?

Below are several companies offering a variety of IBN solutions today:

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