Network as a Service (NaaS)
Jun 02, 2023

Network as a Service (NaaS)

The right approach to empower your business through network services transformation

With the shift in focus towards cost optimization and operational efficiency, there has been significant global growth in the demand for the as-a-service model in infrastructure services, especially among enterprises in the post-pandemic era. Enterprises are moving towards multi-cloud adoption, adopting multiple public and/or private clouds to host their applications and data for consistent management, security, control, and visibility. The hyper-converged infrastructure can also simplify computing, storage, and networking into a modular single-hardware architecture. At the same time, the trend of 5G and Edge computing, where the data is closer to the source rather than residing at a central data center, and the high-performance connectivity also demands an as-a-service model. The rise in demand for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is driven by the dynamic scalability of applications deployed through Distributed Microservices architecture, such as containers and Kubernetes, at the heart of data centers or application hosting environments.

In addition to these factors, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is increasingly vital for organizations, delivering notable enhancements in efficiency, productivity, and real-time insights through analytics, fostering innovation. The appeal of the 'Infrastructure as a Service' model lies in its ability to swiftly adapt and scale infrastructure to match the dynamic demands of businesses, offering agility and scalability without the burden of excessive capital costs or risks associated with dedicated infrastructure.

According to MarketsandMarkets Research group, the market for Network as a Service is expected to grow at a CAGR of 32.7% till 2027, three times faster than the Managed Services market, which is projected to grow at 9.86% during the same period.

The accelerated expansion of the Network as a Service (NaaS) market is predominantly driven by the growing cost-consciousness among enterprises in the post-pandemic era. This has resulted in an increased demand for subscription-based (pay-per-use) business models in network virtualization, cloud computing, software-defined networking (SDN), and the heightened adoption of cloud services by businesses of all sizes.

What is the current status, trends and future outlook for Network as a Service (NaaS)?

While the demand for an as-a-service model is on the rise, numerous organizations require assistance in adopting the consumption-based approach for their networks. Enterprise network services are expected to provide a comprehensive package that encompasses complex services such as Virtual Private Networks, Local Area Networks (LAN), Wide-Area Networks (WAN), Wireless Networks, as well as modern networks like Private 5G. These services are sought after in a bundled offering that includes hardware, software, and services, all structured under an OPEX or consumption-based model. According to Gartner research, the NaaS market is expected to grow 15% in 2024 compared to a modest growth rate of 1% in 2021. Furthermore, NaaS was also recognized as one of the top 5 emerging trends to consider for Enterprises in 2022.

What is NaaS (Network as a Service)?

In today’s digital era, businesses need a flexible, scalable, and cost-effective network infrastructure to meet their growing demands for connectivity and collaboration. Network as a Service (NaaS) is a networking model that allows enterprises or clients to consume network in the form of a Platform that comprises of hardware, software, and services. A well-orchestrated NaaS Platform offers design, deployment, and operating the network environment in a transformative way by a System Integrator. In addition, NaaS is expected to provide the enterprise business with the flexibility to access and use network resources on a pay-per-use or subscription basis without the need for capital expenditure on hardware or software.

Why should you switch to NaaS?

Adopting NaaS offers enterprises a host of benefits, including:

  • Reduce Technical Debt:

Network devices typically have a lifespan of around five years, with some devices extending up to seven years. With devices approaching their end of life or support, the existing network infrastructure may encounter performance limitations, particularly in light of technological advancements like software-defined networks. The presence of End of Life devices within a production network can potentially introduce security risks. Thus, it becomes crucial to undertake transformation initiatives that introduce the right technologies at appropriate intervals. This approach ensures enhanced performance and improved security, safeguarding the network infrastructure.

  • Reduce Network complexity:

Managing and maintaining an enterprise-grade network infrastructure can be complex and resource-intensive. With NaaS, enterprises can outsource the complexity to a third-party service provider, freeing up the internal IT resources and allowing them to focus on their core activities. Also, managing the resulting complexities becomes increasingly challenging as we introduce various technologies into the network through ad-hoc upgrades.

  • Move to OPEX:

Most enterprises are unable to keep up with the technology advancements due to year on year (YoY) budgetary challenges on capital expenditures (CAPEX). In addition, traditional networking equipment can be expensive to purchase and maintain. By moving to a NaaS model, enterprises can reduce their CAPEX on networking equipment, paying for network resources on a subscription or pay-per-use basis.

  • Better Security:

The complexities and inconsistencies caused by the various networking technologies in an enterprise’s network can impact the security posture, making it exceedingly challenging to adopt technologies like Zero Trust Network access (ZTNA). Cybersecurity threats are an ever-present concern for enterprises that have only grown multi-fold during the pandemic. A NaaS provider can use their knowledge and proficiency to help enterprises implement the best practices for securing their network in a hybrid work environment.

  • Scale with Agile:

Enterprises may struggle to scale their network infrastructure to meet growing demand rapidly. To address this enterprises need to respond quickly to changes in the market and customer demand to remain competitive in their respective sectors and geographies. With NaaS, enterprises can scale up or down their network resources as needed without purchasing and deploying additional hardware bringing in agility.

  • Reliable network with better availability:

NaaS provides a flexible network infrastructure that helps to allocate network resources based on specific needs. Centralized management using a unified Platform will help you manage the network resources from a single dashboard. This makes it easier for IT teams to monitor network traffic, security, and performance and respond quickly to any issues.

According to Gartner’s report on NaaS, there are several situations where you may not require adopting an all-inclusive NaaS. For example, if you prefer to own the assets and to have control over sourcing with a predictable growth in demand. In summary, some of the critical problems NaaS expected to solve are complexity, improved security posture, increased performance, reduced cost, and scale with flexibility. Therefore, it would be best if you chose NaaS wisely to suit your requirements.

Key factors you should consider when selecting Network as a Service (NaaS)

Amidst the array of deployments available, it is imperative for every enterprise to take into account certain essential characteristics.

Service-Oriented: In a service-oriented NaaS model, the network services are provided as a service that the customer consumes. As the customer is not responsible for managing the underlying network infrastructure, the NaaS partner must align its NaaS Platform with the customers’ business goals. Therefore, the NaaS partner should work closely with the customer to develop a technology/OEM agnostic best-fit network solution tailored to their specific requirements, including the network services they need, the security and compliance requirements, and the performance and availability goals.

Transparency: To ensure that the customer receives the level of service they require, the NaaS partner needs to be transparent about their network performance and any areas needing improvement.

Business outcome:  The NaaS partner should focus on delivering network services aligned with the customer's business objectives by understanding the customer's business goals and challenges. With this understanding, they should provide network services tailored to address customers’ needs and help them achieve their business outcomes.

Adaptive Commercial Model: Ability to provide flexible NaaS solution with foundational services and optional add-on services based on the requirements of the customers. NaaS also comes with flexible commercial models such as Per User, Per Site, Per Device. The pricing may also be linked to the production capacity in customer business, for example, per component being produced in factories.

Platform driven: A NaaS provider should be highly driven by Platform-based Automation and bring AI/ML approach into the overall network transformation and management, automating routine network operations and ensuring consistency and accuracy in network services. NaaS solutions must also include visibility based on AI/ML stack to analyze network traffic patterns and identify anomalies, which can help to detect potential security threats or performance issues before they can impact customers’ business operations.

Available Network as a Service (NaaS) Solutions in the Market

As you explore the specific characteristics of NaaS, it is essential to navigate through the available options in the market for consuming different deployment models of NaaS.

There are three types of providers that offer NaaS, including:

  1. The Network product vendors or OEMs
  2. Telecom service providers
  3. System Integrators (likes of Microland)

The image below presents a comparison of the various approaches by the OEMs and Telcos alongside Microland.

Potential Pitfalls to Avoid During Network as a Service (NaaS) Implementation

As you consider the diverse range of options for NaaS, it is crucial to carefully evaluate and select the right providers. Failure to do so may lead to situations that are best avoided. Here are some potential pitfalls to be aware of when it comes to NaaS:

  1. Lack of control: In the NaaS model, organizations have limited control over the network infrastructure, as a third-party service provider manages it. The limited nature can lead to challenges in customizing the network services to meet specific business requirements. As a result, you may have a little feature or service where your flexibility of technology and choice may be limited, and eventually, you will have limited control over the services.
  2. Vendor Lock-In: Without choosing the right provider, you may have locked-in technology services without choice and flexibility. NaaS requires organizations to rely on a third-party service provider for network services. The third-party services can lead to vendor lock-in, where organizations become dependent on a single vendor for their networking needs. The vendor lock-in can limit their ability to switch to another vendor or customize their network services.
  3. Security Risks: NaaS requires transmitting sensitive data over the internet, making it vulnerable to security risks such as data breaches, hacking, and malware attacks. To ensure the network’s security, organizations must invest in robust security measures, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption protocols.
  4. Limited Customization: NaaS offers limited customization options, following a one-size-fits-all approach. The one-size-fits-all approach may not suit organizations requiring highly customized networking solutions.
  5. Lack of cost control: It is essential to evaluate the provider's cost of the NaaS and assess its pricing models, such as pay-as-you-go, subscription-based or any other loopholes. Otherwise, you may spend more as you grow or seek more services under NaaS. As a result, the benefits may look initially cost-effective but may be costlier in the long run. You should also assess the provider's pricing for additional services, such as support, maintenance, etc.
  6. Choices of SLA or XLA: Often, the providers give standard SLAs across services. Typically, the provider meets their uptime, availability, and performance requirements, but more is needed when you need specific SLAs for critical locations. Also, these standard SLAs may not include experience or productivity enhancement, which falls under Experience level agreements (XLAs). You should also have guarantees for response times, customer support, and resolution of issues which should be considered more seriously.
  7. Internet Dependency: NaaS relies on the Internet for delivering network services. Any disruption in the internet connectivity can lead to downtime or disruption in the network services, affecting business operations. Therefore, it is vital to consider the disaster recovery mechanisms, or else you may have heavy losses due to Internet outages.
  8. Performance and Scalability: Usually, the services look attractive initially, but they may need to be more scalable as organizations grow and their demands increase yearly. Evaluating the provider's performance and scalability capabilities is critical to ensure that the network services meet their current and future requirements.

Microland's approach to NaaS

Microland's NaaS is a comprehensive solution that enables enterprises to consume Network services encompassing Operating Platform, Services and the underlying Hardware and Software footprint.

Microland offers NaaS solution in two levels for ease of adoption by customers. The foundation layer consists of Microland’s Unique Intelligeni NetOps Platform and the Services to onboard, transform, and operate the technologies. Its second layer is completely Plug-N-Play to facilitate customers onboard their existing investments part of NaaS alongside Circuits. Microland would bring in appropriate OEM and Telco(s) to meet the customers need if they would like Microland to take ownership of these components.

Figure 3: Microland NaaS approach

Microland NaaS solution exhibits the following six characteristics which are critical for customer success.  

  1. Platform Orchestrated: Unlike services offered through numerous disconnected tools, Microland adopts a Unified Platform model that seamlessly integrates all aspects of service onboarding, operations, and transformation into a single unified view.
  2. User Experience Focus: Traditionally, network services are delivered on SLAs associated with device availability. However, the higher availability of Network Devices does portray a better User Experience. Microland has devised a composite metric that correlates device availability, ITSM responses, Site performances, Quality of reporting, etc., and provides a User Experience Scope.
  3. Outcome Driven: “One size fit all” approach does not work well with NaaS solution given the need of complex and varied levels of integrations with the customers’ IT ecosystem. Hence, Microland’s NaaS solution is tailor-made to meet customers’ personalized requirements.
  4. Centrally Managed: Microland NaaS offerings are managed on a hybrid model with a centralized NOC function and governance focused on a regional level.
  5. Scalability on Demand: Scalability at levels is the key for the success of NaaS solution. Microland leverages a true RU (Resource Unit) model to deliver services and partner with right OEMs & Telcos to offer variability.
  6. Transparent: Microland has established the reputation as a trusted "True Partner" for its customers by prioritizing transparency throughout the engagement process. From navigating complex onboarding procedures to selecting the most suitable Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) for each customer, Microland fosters a collaborative and proactive approach to effectively address challenges together.

The Microland Edge

Microland focuses on NaaS services in an agile and methodical way with a long-term strategy and vision for customers. The Microland NaaS approach helps customers choose the right fit technology and tools to solve problems and align technology with business goals. In addition, the platform-first approach helps customers to start seeing orders of magnitude improvement in user experience (UX) and business productivity.

With this complete customer-centric approach, Microland goes the right system integrator way which helps customers with the following benefits:

  • Faster Time to Market: With Microland’s Platform-first approach using the Intelligeni NetOps Platform, customers can achieve a quicker time to market by 40% with their network transformation. The workflow automation and AI/ML-based Automated operation in the Intelligeni NetOps Platform makes it possible to minimize risks and achieve this velocity during transformation and network management.
  • Higher Value per $: Enabled by Rationalized Assets, WiFi First, ELA, and competitive network technology, customers can benefit from 1.2X higher value per dollar spent.
  • Increased Network reliability: With the platform-first approach enabled by Platform Centricity (Intelligeni NetOps Platform), AIOps & Observability customers can benefit from a 35% Increase in Network Reliability.
  • Better User Experience (UX): With Intelligeni NetOps Platform UX and enabled by Automation with a focus on XLAs, CSI process, and CSAT, Microland can provide 2X better user experience.

NaaS in a Nutshell

When exploring options for Network as a Service (NaaS), it is essential for organizations to thoroughly assess their specific requirements and carefully select the NaaS deployment models that align best with their needs. Different NaaS deployment models may offer varying advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of provider involved. Additionally, scalability, cost-effectiveness, agility, accessibility, and security risks should be taken into consideration by enterprise organizations before choosing a NaaS provider. Ultimately, the ideal NaaS option will depend on an organization's unique priorities and requirements. Therefore, choosing a consultant or system integrator who can offer impartial guidance and present unbiased NaaS options that benefit your organization is crucial.

About the Authors:

Balasubramanian P (Bala)

Bala is a Senior Director at Microland and an expert in Network Services Consulting specializing in Service Design, Automation, Technology adoption methods by Enterprises. He has over 21 years of experience. Some of his notable achievements include Designing network services solutions for fortune 100 customers and Driving Automation-led Service Transformation. Bala is a graduate in Computer Science Engineering and his interests include Reading and Playing Chess.

Ramesh N G

Ramesh, is Senior Director – Digital Networks Security at Microland, with 22 years of experience in Enterprise networking, specializing in Software-Defined Networking, Network automation, and Data center networking. Ramesh has accomplished many notable achievements, such as creating differentiation around Network operations, developing solutions for hybrid networking, and participating in various Industry forums like IEEE, Open Stack forum, and ONUG. At Microland, Ramesh is a remarkable driving force for innovative solutions and IP Building for Managed network services, contributing to developing solutions and services under Network and Cybersecurity practice. In his leisure time, he indulges in playing badminton and embarking on long-distance runs. Furthermore, he relishes taking extensive drives to explore picturesque locales.