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Network as a Service: a Modern Approach to WAN Connectivity

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As we round out the 2010s, the “as a service” model is taking over network functions much like SaaS (Software as a Service) did for application delivery earlier in the decade. Everything from firewalls (FWaaS) to WiFi (WaaS) is being “cloudified”, labeled “as a service”, and delivered in a pay as you go model that reduces capex while increasing flexibility and scalability. Collectively, these services make up what is known as the Network as a Service (NaaS) market. According to a recent projection, the NaaS market is expected to grow fivefold between 2018 and 2023.

In this piece, we’ll walk through the basics of Network as a Service, explain the drivers of its growth, and explore why the NaaS technologies for the WAN are so promising.

An introduction to NaaS

As the name implies, Network as a Service is any WAN or LAN service delivered in the traditional cloud-based “as a service” model. As opposed to deploying discrete virtual or physical devices to achieve network functionalities on-premises, enterprises simply pay a vendor to provide those functionalities.  Examples of NaaS offerings include Bandwidth on Demand (BoD), Virtual Private Networks (VPN) as a Service, and Mobile Virtual Networks.

Drivers of NaaS growth

There are multiple drivers of this growth, including the maturing SDN (software-defined networking) market better integrating with existing networks, increased development of modern datacenters, and overall accelerated adoption of cloud technologies in small and large enterprises alike.

However, the simple reason for the surge in NaaS popularity is the abstraction of complexity, reduction of capex, and offloading of network maintenance coupled with increased agility and scalability within IT infrastructure – these all make for a compelling business case.

Types of Network as a Service

While there are multiple discrete NaaS offerings, at a high-level, there are two types of NaaS: LANaaS (Local Area Network as a Service) and WANaaS (Wide Area Network as a Service). While LANaaS makes up a larger share of the market today, WANaaS is projected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of over 45% per year during the aforementioned 2018 to 2023 forecast period.

Why NaaS technology for the WAN so promising

With the changes in the enterprise WAN market, and SD-WAN supplanting MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) as the go-to WAN connectivity solution, there is plenty of opportunity for cloud vendors to deliver value in the WAN space.

When providers can abstract away the complexities of WAN optimization and security, they solve real problems for users. For example, a WAN connectivity solution like cloud-based SD-WAN can reduce the time it takes to provision a new site from weeks to hours. Not only does this reduce the time and labor investment in onboarding new locations, it can eliminate the WAN as a bottleneck to productivity.

So, why aren’t all NaaS solutions living up to the hype?

As with any relatively new technology, not all NaaS solutions live up to the hype. While real-world use cases are proving the cloud-based SD-WAN concept, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) as a Service is struggling to deliver business value. The reasons NFV is struggling are easy to understand when you dive into the details. The benefits of NaaS are reduced complexity and increased scalability. While NFV solutions do shift hardware appliances to a software model, they don’t do away with complexity and can create significant integration burdens with only minimal upside. Why is NFV complex? Because there isn’t as much standardization between vendors as there should be and as a result integration of NFV solutions across a WAN can become challenging and

Cloud-based SD-WAN exemplifies the benefits of NaaS for the modern WAN

Given that we have seen that other NaaS solutions, like NFV as a Service, can limit the upside of NaaS, what makes cloud-based SD-WAN different? Premium cloud-based SD-WAN providers abstract away complexity by combining all major WAN security and network functionality into a single cloud-native network infrastructure. In the cloud-based SD-WAN model, enterprises benefit from features such as:

  • Global SLA-backed private backbone. Premium cloud-based SD-WAN providers maintain networks of PoPs (Points of Presence) around the world. These PoPs are interconnected by Tier-1 ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and backed by an SLA. It is this network that enables providers to deliver reliable, predictable, enterprise-level network performance across the globe.
  • Dynamic path selection. Dynamic path selection ensures network traffic traverses the best available route every time, helping enable WAN optimization efforts.
  • Policy-based Routing (PbR). One of the fundamental benefits of SD-WAN is the agility afforded by PbR. Cloud-based SD-WAN providers deliver easy to configure routing features such as PbR and QoS to the enterprise.
  • Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW). By delivering NGFW functionality in the cloud, providers help build security into the underlying network infrastructure. This means full traffic inspection and network visibility can be achieved without complex integrations.
  • Intelligent last-mile management (ILLM). One of the most challenging WAN optimization problems is dealing with the erratic behavior of the public Internet. ILLM enables rapid detection and response to network blackouts and brownouts in the last-mile.

Cloud-based SD-WAN and converged WAN infrastructure will fulfill the promise of NaaS for the enterprise WAN

As we have seen, NaaS is growing fast and we can expect that trend to continue into the foreseeable future. The solutions that deliver the most value to enterprises will be the ones that drive NaaS growth long-term and cloud-based SD-WAN is positioned to do just that. By providing all the major WAN functionality that used to require separate appliances at each physical location, cloud-based SD-WAN significantly reduces WAN complexity while increasing security and performance.

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