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The adoption of cloud computing and the transition of corporate applications to on-premises networks have made corporate data infrastructures increasingly complex. Employees today need access to several applications for their jobs, applications that are latency-sensitive and require high-performance and reliable network connectivity. 

While some applications can be hosted in one cloud, others must be set up in a completely different cloud. This practice vastly decreases the flexibility of a network’s architecture. Network flexibility has also created new issues for IT teams, who are already under enormous pressure to ensure that enterprise networks remain reliable secure, scalable and compliant. 

Over a decade ago, organizational flexibility was viewed as a bonus rather than a necessity, and certainly not at the top of the corporate agenda. But with the pace of innovation, most enterprises can no longer afford the time it takes to build and maintain their own network infrastructures. As a result, the importance of a robust network has never been greater.

Network-as-a-service (NaaS) is slowly becoming the consumption model of choice to help organizations meet increased flexibility needs. NaaS solutions enable an organization to ensure that it has the network infrastructure and enterprise-grade security to protect it without needing to maintain the necessary personnel and resources in-house.

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What is network-as-a-service? 

NaaS architecture is a cloud service paradigm that delivers networking hardware, software and operational/maintenance services as an operating expense rather than a one-time cost.

Within enterprises, the as-a-service concept is taking hold as organizations embrace cloud computing and its consumption-based billing model. According to research firm IDC, the as-a-service model will account for more than 75% of network infrastructure at edge locations and up to 50% of data center infrastructure by 2024.

Many corporate activities are transitioning to the cloud, and NaaS is a viable replacement for MLPS connections, legacy network setups and numerous types of on-premises hardware, such as load balancers and firewall devices.

NaaS also reduces the time network employees must spend maintaining the network, as well as the level of training and competency required of network professionals. For example, IT experts can handle an organization’s network via a portal instead of maintaining a pool of network management tools and hardware stacks.

NaaS diagram
Image source: Cloudflare.

Like other cloud services, the service provider maintains and delivers the NaaS model for a fixed fee. And for enterprises that prefer a subscription-based approach to enterprise networking, NaaS provides equipment, software orchestration and administration for a fixed recurring cost, with services tailored to an adopter’s unique business requirements.

As a newer model for routing traffic and applying security policies, NaaS has significantly impacted enterprise networking architecture. Furthermore, certain NaaS providers specialize in areas such as ultra-secure connections, simple configurations, and services for mobile and temporary sites.

Benefits of NaaS architecture

In the past, when employees on an internal network connected to the internet, their traffic had to go through the corporate networking infrastructure via a VPN first. This model quickly became inefficient as business activities began moving into the cloud. Cloud computing has also grown more efficient, with more capabilities. Today, DDoS mitigation, firewalls, load balancing and other essential networking functions can all run in the cloud, eliminating the need for internal IT teams to build and maintain these services.

For these reasons, NaaS is a more efficient option than relying on internally maintained WANs. Such WANs require constant maintenance and often create bottlenecks for network traffic. With NaaS, employees can connect to their cloud services directly through a virtual network that an external vendor manages and secures. IT teams don’t have to spend time keeping up with the demand for network services.

With NaaS, employees no longer have to wait for their web traffic to travel through the internal corporate infrastructure. Instead, they can connect to the internet, sign in through a browser and access all the cloud services they need. A NaaS provider secures their browsing activity, protects their data and routes their web traffic wherever it needs to go as efficiently as possible.

Small and medium-sized businesses, particularly those without a prior WAN investment, are typical NaaS buyers. However, larger enterprises, too, have become more interested in the NaaS model over the past 10 years. 

The NaaS model has several other benefits, including:

  • Improved service latency: Reduced latency results in enhanced sound quality, more efficient call routing and better network administration. Employees can focus on their work instead of being distracted by IT issues.
  • Enhanced productivity: IT staff (and other employees) can complete their regular tasks more efficiently and effectively when their network is in good working order, with fewer difficulties and downtime. As a result, overall productivity increases. The NaaS partner will deliver monthly reports so you can identify concerns and critical trends.
  • Reduced cost: Many IT expenses, including infrastructure, hardware, software, operations and maintenance, may very well be decreased with NaaS. NaaS significantly reduces the capital investment cost for networking gear, making it attractive to new business owners. Furthermore, most NaaS providers charge a fixed monthly subscription fee, assisting adopters in planning their monthly IT budget.

Challenges facing NaaS architecture

The existing NaaS architectures lack vendor versatility, portability and long-term commitments. There may also be problems with legacy systems, such as software or hardware incompatible with the solution. Most NaaS compatibility difficulties are caused by outdated hardware or on-premises applications that are outdated but still in use.

Because many organizations still use on-premises data centers rather than the cloud for some critical operations or applications, transitioning to the NaaS model might require a good deal of time and effort, though the services can assist their customers.

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Because a NaaS connection is typically established using “best effort” public broadband, the service is available only where broadband internet connections are available, which can limit performance and capabilities to the speed of the last-mile connectivity. 

Another concern for some organizations is the potential for loss of control. Adopters may have concerns about service responsiveness and control of their network resources with outsourced network services.

A future of opportunities

NaaS vendors usually emphasize SD-WAN functionality in addition to the simplicity of reading and management at the center of the NaaS model. The network-as-a-service model is also a compelling new option for corporations that want to focus on code design without hiring engineers and building hardware infrastructure. With NaaS, a company can virtualize its network and use virtual logic entities to regulate it, rather than use hardware switches and nodes to drive network activity

Since NaaS is easily accessible from any part of the world and any device, it is expected to become widespread in hybrid and small businesses in the next few years. Employees can easily access any platform as long as they have a stable internet connection and login credentials. 

Typically the service provider will charge a monthly subscription fee, but depending on the service provider, infrastructure functionality may or may not be included; the client can pay individually for each service, including optimization, firewall, other security services and SD-WAN. So, once your company has defined its business objectives and the scope of its service requirements, you can opt for the best financial model and feature set for your needs.

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