Responding to changing business requirements more effectively plus freeing up resources to innovate and experiment are some of the key drivers of the as-a-Service model adoption.
Networking traditionally consists of on-premises hardware run by a company’s technicians using specialist software. Between the increasing maturity of the cloud, the advent of virtual machines, and the widespread adoption of mobile devices with both Wi-Fi and cellular communications, it is now becoming easier and less expensive for companies to buy or acquire in-building network capability as a service.
Managed network services have existed for years as an available option, but they still require internal experts to define the required services and manage the service provider. Now, however, Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) is stepping forth as a possible refinement.
Network-as-a-Service means simplicity of selection
Software-defined infrastructure, cloud-based management architectures, and cloud-enabled systems make it possible for a vendor to implement an architecture that allows an end customer to take a completely different point of view about owning and operating their network.
“Managed networking services has existed as a services capability for a very long time,” says David Logan, vice president of strategy at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. “There’s been a convergence zone created in both technology forces and market forces. While it is necessary to have hardware systems to make networks possible, like Wi-Fi access points or Ethernet switches, ultimately, these are now software-defined and software-driven architectures. It’s not necessary to build single-purpose devices anymore. You can take any access point and make it work like a remote access point in a home, like I’m using now, or make it work in a campus environment with 10,000 other access points on a university campus. Having a software-defined infrastructure has been one key requirement for leading to this Networking-as-a-Service.”
Logan adds, “They can finally say, ‘You know what? I no longer need to think about very technical considerations like [virtual LAN] configurations and security authentication policies. I can take my IT staff and I can allow them to work on a completely different set of problems and opportunities and experiences that my end-user community wants us to work on. I don’t have to have them thinking about running a network anymore.'”
It has just now become possible for networking to be thought of as an as-a-Service capability, says Logan, “as opposed to a very long technical description of what an enterprise organization needs to install inside their organization.”
If NaaS is beginning to be thought of as the next logical step in business networking, what are the differentiators? Logan points out an experience most of us know intimately as an analogy: mobile phones.
“We’ve all experienced the use of our mobile devices in a carrier’s network like Verizon or AT&T,” he says. “We probably chose that network based on coverage and cost and maybe a little on performance and a little bit on some extra features. That is exactly the experience providers are going to need to enable that simplicity of selection.”
Gone will be the lengthy technical specifications processes that require IT staff, the vendor, and the integrator to discuss at length the equipment that will be installed, where it will be installed, and how it will be configured.
Logan notes, “The enterprise will simply say, ‘We need coverage in our facilities. This is the number of users we have in our organization. We would like a typical average performance plan or a high-performance plan, and we need these additional two security features.'”
The value proposition for organizations will be very simple in nature, he says. It will be a more resilient networking environment, a more secure networking environment, one that is self-healing and self-optimizing, so that they don’t have to have technical staff looking at gauges and dials and turning knobs.
“It’ll make their business more agile,” says Logan. “They will be able to respond to their own changing business requirements more effectively. They’ll be able to take their IT staff that might’ve been specialists in networking and turn them into specialists in a broader set of infrastructure needs: next-generation computing, next-generation application environments, and the like.”
Network-as-a-Service means more bandwidth to innovate
“The reasons that customers are adopting as-a-Service models is because it really makes them much more agile and responsive to any changes in their environment,” says Susan Middleton, a research director at IDC.
“When we ask customers what their top drivers are for adopting as-a-Service models, the first one that comes back is the reduction of IT staff workloads. You don’t have a lot of issues with downtime and other problems. If there are capacity limitations, those are getting resolved behind the scenes. If there’s a service outage, that’s also getting resolved behind the scenes.” So now your team can focus on business imperatives that improve competitiveness, she adds.
Another driver, according to Middleton, is an improvement in cost-per-user metrics. Adopters can more effectively plan how they’re going to deploy certain assets, whether at the edge or in the data center, with synergistic support and service levels—improving the overall experience.
People who have adopted NaaS models are also driven by issues that are not necessarily related to costs, says Middleton, like innovation and experimentation.
“Shifting from the enterprise IT staff to the vendor programs like NaaS really enables enterprises to scale bandwidth much quicker and allows them to access features that they might’ve had to delay because they might not have had the on-site skill set,” she says. “This allows the adopters to feel that they’re gaining a sense of greater control over the stability of their operations.” IDC surveys show adopters embrace the model’s agility, improved lifecycle management, and safe and secure disposal features.
To achieve this, there has to be a legitimate partnership between the vendor and the customer. Some programs and skills you keep with your staff, but the rest you trust your vendor to employ.
“If you feel that your team is really good at deployment, for instance, that might be something that you decide to retain ownership of,” says Middleton. “It starts to become, ‘Wow, our staff has a lot more time to work on these other business initiatives, we have much less downtime, we’re finding out that our useful lifecycle of this equipment is much more competitive, we’re not being hindered by huge upgrade cycles.’ Those advantages start to turn into actual realized savings that they might not have calculated upfront and improve the return on investment.”
By Curt Hopkins