It can safely be said that any market forecast to be growing at a CAGR of 35% is booming. For Network-as-a-Service (NaaS), the latest cab off the cloud technology rank, that could result in the market touching $100bn in global value by 2026, with every big-name CSP you care to mention apparently making a major play in this lucrative growth market.
If you’re familiar with cloud service models like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), you can probably guess what NaaS is all about – the provision of virtualised network services on a subscription basis.
Like all cloud services, virtualisation is central to NaaS. Its growth is therefore built on the increasing sophistication and availability of software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) technologies. These technologies serve to decouple networking capabilities from fixed, physical assets, at least in the sense that you no longer need a dedicated physical infrastructure for each individual network.
As with cloud computing, virtualisation allows CSPs to effectively slice their network infrastructure into many pieces, running multiple services on the same physical backbone. This has clear benefits from a provider’s perspective. But a market only grows if customers buy into the concept.
So what does NaaS have to offer organisations large and small? Here are five reasons why businesses are flocking to NaaS.
Setting up and managing a wide area network (WAN) for a business is not straightforward. Even in the era of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) solutions, there is still a complicated array of routers, optimisers, endpoints and protocols that have to be installed, configured and maintained.
Following the traditional cloud service model, one of the big selling points of NaaS is that it takes all of this complexity away. As a managed service, the technical side of setting up and running a network is taken care of. Provisioned over existing network infrastructure (i.e. internet connections and data centres), the end user gets all the functionality of a WAN with none of the hassle.
In the past, NaaS has been characterised as an SME market, because smaller operators without the means to invest in a traditional WAN were viewed as having the most to gain from this emerging plug-and-play offer.
However, larger enterprises are not immune from the attractions of simplicity. One recent survey of NaaS adoption amongst enterprises found that one of the top benefits mentioned by IT decision-makers was not having to design and build their own network.
Again like most other cloud service models it follows, flexibility is a major selling point for NaaS. This flexibility is realised in a number of different ways – in deployment, in billing, in the number and type of services offered and so on.
For example, virtualised NFV-based networks are highly customisable and scalable. Cloud networking affords a level of agility in how a network is configured and run, as well as how it develops over time in response to operational needs, that simply isn’t practical with physical network infrastructure. Adding new users in new locations is simply a case of registering and logging into a new user account via a thin client, rather than building a new network branch.
NaaS also offers a wide range of choice both in terms of the specific type of network services available (see below) and the functions and features included in the service, be it security, mobility, data analytics and so on.
There is an equal level of flexibility in billing and subscriptions, with models ranging from flat fee contracts with a specified service level agreement, to usage-based pricing more akin to the mobile pay-as-you-go model.
WAN might command the largest share of the NaaS market, but it is far from the only networking option available as a cloud service. Because of the inherent flexibility described above, NaaS lends itself to practically any type of network delivery – data centre connectivity, bandwidth on demand, VPN, content delivery networks (CDN), 5G and more.
Telecoms and tech analysts Omdia argue that this level of ‘snackability’, or pick-and-mix flexibility in terms of the networking options available, is a key factor in rising enterprise adoption of NaaS.
Again in keeping with the general ‘as-a-service’ cloud model, one of the reasons NaaS is automatically associated with SME markets is because it strips all the capital costs out of setting up a business-class network, replacing them with affordable, predictable OPEX costs.
But to again repeat a theme, it is slightly disingenuous to suggest that not having invest in expensive network infrastructure doesn’t appeal equally to larger organisations. Indeed, Omdia’s polling of enterprise-level NaaS adopters found optimised CAPEX was one of the main benefits mentioned.
As well as cutting capital infrastructure investment, NaaS offers further cost efficiencies via flexible billing, especially on-demand payment options which allow businesses to only use for networking capabilities they use and need.
A post-COVID solution?
Finally, there is good reason to believe that NaaS adoption will accelerate as more still as we emerge the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, the pandemic has triggered significant shifts in working practices and operational organisation, most obviously in the millions people who have spent months working from home.
These shifts have pushed network agility to the top of the priority list. With dispersed workforces becoming the norm, businesses need WANs and other networks that they can roll out anywhere at speed, that permit access from any location without the need for cumbersome changes to infrastructure.
At the same time, they also need network solutions that they can trust to be just as reliable and secure whether accessed in the office, at home or out in the field. The service-based NaaS model delivers on all fronts.