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What to Expect from Network as a Service (NaaS) Technology

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Network as a Service (NaaS) technology provides networking hardware, software, and operational/maintenance services as an operational expense instead of the traditional upfront expense. Like other cloud services, NaaS is managed by the service provider and delivered for a fixed fee.

NaaS is the logical outcome of many business processes moving to the cloud, observed Jacob Martin, a software engineer at IT infrastructure automation company Spacelift. NaaS replaces VPNs, MLPS connections, legacy network configurations, and several types of on-premises hardware, such as load balancers and firewall devices. "It has had a significant influence on enterprise networking architecture," he noted.

In essence, NaaS is a network subscription service."Enterprise customers often think of NaaS as being similar to other cloud-based services, but in reality, NaaS is far less standardized than SaaS, and the decisions on how to use NaaS are far more complex," explained Nick Nagy, principal consultant with global technology research and advisory firm ISG. The added complexity is largely driven by the need for on-premises equipment. "Enterprises have to decide how to employ various elements of NaaS to meet their business objectives, and this often comes down to an OpEx versus CapEx decision, influenced by tax implications."

Multiple benefits

For organizations that find a subscription approach to enterprise networking appealing, NaaS offers a turnkey solution that typically includes equipment, software, orchestration, and management at a fixed recurring cost, with services tailored to meet the adopter's specific business requirements. "This enables the enterprise customer to smooth out the financial and operating lumps that come with ongoing technology refreshes," Nagy said.

For the vast majority of enterprises, no other model really makes sense, stated Robert Blumofe, executive vice president and CTO of the content delivery network, cybersecurity, and cloud service firm Akamai Technologies. "How many enterprises really have the specialized skillset needed to build and operate their own networks?" he asked. For many organizations, NaaS is by far the better option, Blumofe added. "The scope for traditional private networking services is shrinking, and the scope for a new access-based model is growing."

Blumofe observed that enterprises have traditionally used private networks to interconnect their offices and data centers." Going forward, this type of private network really only makes sense on the backend as a way to connect private and public clouds," he said. "For this use case, NaaS is really a great solution."

Office buildings, on the other hand, should be treated like private coffee shops with high-quality Wi-Fi connecting customers directly to the Internet, Blumofe noted. "After all, what really is the difference between working from home, or on the road, or in the office? "he asked. Workers, wherever they are, need access to their necessary applications. "This new form [of technology] is essentially an overlay network that provides zero-trust application access as a service."

NaaS's flexibility and scalability are unmatched, Martin said. "It tailors to your needs because changes are made in the software instead of the hardware, and such customizations are actioned on demand," he explained.

NaaS potential pitfalls

NaaS disadvantages include a lack of vendor flexibility in terms of both portability and long-term commitments. "Additionally, there can be issues with legacy systems, such as software or hardware that isn't compatible with the solution," Nagy warned.

Martin agreed, noting that most NaaS compatibility issues are related to infrastructure, such as old hardware or on-premises applications still in use. "Coincidentally, some essential processes or applications operate on on-premise data centers instead of the cloud in many enterprises," he said. "Thus, it could be a bit challenging to migrate to the NaaS model, although there are services that can certainly make it easier."

Because a NaaS connection is typically established using "best effort" public broadband, the service is only available in places where broadband Internet connections are available, cautioned Ajay Pandya, director of product management at cloud networking platform provider Masergy. "Performance can be limited to the speed of the last-mile connectivity," he said.

Potential loss of control is an issue for some potential adopters. "When outsourcing their network services, some clients have concerns regarding service responsiveness and their ability to control their network resources," Pandya said. "In response, co-managed NaaS solutions have arrived, allowing clients to share the work of managing their network, bandwidth, and firewall policies, for instance."

Nagy added that some large multinational enterprises may find NaaS to be a poor fit due to tax and accounting issues.

Future outlook

Since NAAS is easily accessible from anywhere on any device, it's expected to become indispensable in remote/hybrid work models in the years ahead. "You may work from anywhere as long as you have Internet access and log-in credentials," Martin noted. "The provider offers both network and security services, which further strengthens the integration between the network and network security."

The best way to get started with NaaS, Nagy said, is to define the service portfolio scope and business objectives. "Then determine the preferred financial model, meaning CAPEX versus OPEX."

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