NaaS: The future of corporate and enterprise networking

The COVID-19 pandemic has dictated the way organizations operate in the New Normal. Workplace boundaries are fading, organizations are moving towards the hybrid model, and in our current ‘anytime-anywhere’ business scenario, companies are betting on enabler services that allows employees to securely connect to the organization’s apps and data. 

This is also the era of start-ups – where the need for scalable and elastic infrastructure is critical, and WFH formats of video conferencing and collaboration are the norm. Therefore, the need for stable and manageable applications, platforms, and infrastructure services over an on-demand network scalability has skyrocketed. Clearly, cloud-based digital work has taken precedence. 

NaaS as an enabler of cloud transformation

Cloud-based digital work, and digital transformation in general, enables innovation across industries such as manufacturing, aviation, finance, retail, etc. This is driven by the need for secure network connectivity with scalability and customized requirements. This is where we see the application of NaaS (Network-as-a-Service) as a key enabler for digital transformation across industry. 

NaaS is simply a cloud model, which provides network services over the Internet on a pay-per-use subscription model. To avail the underlying benefits of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS, organizations should have the means to securely connect their users and IoT devices with their applications. Providing security to a mobile workforce at par with their office branch requires an agile, scalable and elastic network that cannot be met by traditional IT and a Network Operations Center (NOC) approach. 

NaaS will invariably change and even define the way organizations acquire, deliver, and manage their networking solutions. While IaaS (infrastructure as a service) is a service offered by cloud service providers for demand-based consumption of infrastructure resources such as compute, storage, and networking, NaaS is a service offered by network service providers for networking and network security resources such as WAN, VPN, firewall etc. 

Enterprise benefits of NaaS implementation

Industry 4.0 – driven by technologies such as IoT, 4G/5G, Cloud computing, AI/ML, digital twins, SASE (Secure Access Service Edge), cybersecurity, Edge computing – requires networks to scale on par with these driver technologies. With the availability of ‘as-a-service’ models such as SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS which need the internet as a transport mechanism, NaaS is a trending model that enables all of this – and more. 

The other merits of implementing network-as-a-service include:

  • Faster adoption of new-age technologies: With NaaS, enterprises need not worry about the intricacies of the technology and its implementation, as the cloud service provider manages the process end-to-end. As a result, local IT can focus more on defining the SLAs, QoS, and performance-tuning customisations for the organization working along with the cloud service providers.
  • Overall network lifecycle management: NaaS facilitates instant ramp-up or ramp-down of the network utilisation or capacity across multiple vendors’ network equipment components. The seamless integration of these components helps IT organizations to manage end-to-end provisioning, management and dashboarding of performance parameters.
  • Enabling the sustainability paradigm: With cloud providers aiming to reduce their carbon footprint through use of renewable energy or use of AI/ML-based models to optimize power consumption, these can be extended to enterprises and networking service providers as they transition to a NaaS model.

‘Make or Buy’ – Points to ponder for business 

Industry research shows that over the past two years, NaaS is growing at a CAGR of more than 20 percent, with some reports predicting its growth to 35-40 percent by 2027. Many network equipment vendors, including Cisco, Dell, and HP, are providing NaaS solutions, and the trend is picking up. They are servicing enterprise customers with their router/datacentre cloud solutions, and offering as-a-service portfolio across networking segments such as hybrid cloud, SASE, wireless, data storage services, or campus switching. 

Typically, OEMs partner with specific cloud service providers to offer network solutions to industry end customers. And now, traditional OEMs and service providers are entering the scene – AWS has positioned services such as AWS Cloud WAN and AWS Wavelength (5G service); Azure has introduced virtual WAN; and GCP has Network Connectivity Centre as part of its offering. As enterprise customers, IT can choose to opt one or more solutions per the needs of their organizations.  

In deciding whether to invest in NaaS, and selecting a partner for the same, COOs and enterprises should identify and evaluate their specific requirements, as below: 

  • Minimum networking needs – ‘must-have’ functionality versus ‘nice-to-have’
  • Extended but important needs – such as security, performance, data analytics
  • Ease of future adaptation and elasticity requirement, especially new services and scaling
  • Clear ‘Make or Buy’ business analysis – based on core priorities and competency versus adapting local IT team for innovation and business value, capex versus opex approach, etc.

NaaS – ‘As-a-service’ model of the future

The proliferation of NaaS could be a ‘win-win’ for all. Partnership among cloud vendors, network service providers and equipment manufacturers will be pivotal in the development of NaaS. And network service operators and equipment providers can lean on the cloud vendors’ experience of facilitating multi-tenant services and elastic infrastructure of NaaS to provide end-to-end solutions globally. 

On the other hand, cloud vendors will get to leverage years of networking domain expertise from OEMs to extend their reach to users and devices connected through various means (such as 4G, 5G, coax cables, fibre and satellite). In light of these prospects, in the near future, enterprises would get to pick and choose the platter of services for their organization’s networking needs. 

The key to that is to know how they go about choosing the right cloud model!

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The article has been written by Sumithra Ranganathan, Vice President – Engineering, ER&D GBL, Capgemini Engineering

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