By: Cathy Won, Consultant with eTeam, HPE Aruba Contributor.
Network as-a-Service (NaaS) has been an industry term for many years; but many people immediately think of as-a-service in terms of compute power and storage, such as Everything as-a-Service (XaaS) or Infrastructure as-a-Service (IaaS). Why is NaaS the latecomer to the mix? What has changed? Was Covid-19 a catalyst?
The shifting IT landscape
Organizations have traditionally invested significant resources in IT specialists to design, build, and operate its networking infrastructure. Long ago the task was a very labor-intensive experience for connecting everyone with physical in-house devices accessing centralized applications within a data center. Network hardware had to be procured, pre-staged, cabled, installed, and configured to provide users inside an enterprise office the dedicated in-house devices required to connect to on-premises networks. This was all necessary to gain access to enterprise applications inside the data center.
Today, almost all these conditions and elements have transformed. Throughout the course of time and innovation, several factors have changed the dynamics of the traditional operation of networks and the reason why NaaS has become a formidable topic and the answer for today’s market needs.
- The workplace
Laptops and mobile devices have enabled users to conveniently access enterprise applications from outside the office and onto non-enterprise networks (e.g., cellular, home broadband). The current Covid-19 pandemic accelerated wider adoption of the hybrid workplace with many people forced to work from home. Companies discovered they needed to right-size the traditional real estate footprint. The result can mean reducing footprints and hub locations. New, smaller spoke locations may have to be developed closer to migration points of the workforce. The byproduct is requiring more flexibility and agility with the technology that supports these new models.
The emergence of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and mobile devices owned by users are being used to access enterprise applications. The shift from dedicated enterprise devices has changed to devices no longer owned by organizations. Today, an end user can do work from a plethora of home devices, even their smart watches.
Due to the shift in the workplace and the shift in device usage, the need for direct connection to on-premises networks have evolved. Cellular, WAN, and SD-WAN solutions have changed connectivity to on-premises networks. The constant innovation in technology, such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6E, make it challenging for organizations to adequately keep pace. The speed of innovation can cause equipment to become outdated more quickly to address the needs of today’s dynamic climate; and it isn’t equipment alone that becomes a challenge. New technology introduces the challenge of finding trained personnel and ensuring current staff are also sufficiently trained.
- Application hosting
The development and adoption of Software as-a-Service (SaaS) has removed the requirement to gain direct access to enterprise applications within an enterprise network. The days of connecting everyone with physical in-house devices accessing centralized applications within a data center are long gone. The movement of internal applications and cloud solutions for enterprises pushed applications out of the organizational IT hands and out of the enterprise data center. Even today, most business lines and departments within organizations own applications unmanaged by the IT staff. Today, web-based applications enable anytime and anywhere access. For the IT staff, ensuring connectivity for the edge becomes paramount.
Finally, there are no surprises here. Covid-19 served as a catalyst of changing the way today’s corporate IT staff must plan and procure their respective networks.
At the very start of the pandemic, many organizations found themselves having to shift network priorities to remote access capabilities for the masses quickly. Remote work and access have now become the new normal, shifting network priorities.
The impact on business prompted organizations to preserve its cash suddenly. Large capital investments for strategic planning had to be put on hold due to the uncertainty on the bottom line. For some, planning cycles have changed within organizations and have shortened from 3–5 year planning efforts to 1-2 year planning efforts (or even less).
Why NaaS now?
While today’s enterprise on-premises networks are predominantly still being designed, built, and operated by IT organizations, the planning and procurement methodologies are evolving. With enterprises embracing public cloud and the shifts in workplace, devices, and technology, the corporate network perimeter has essentially disappeared. Competitive pressures are forcing organizations to focus on core business competencies. This is requiring IT personnel to change the legacy way of procuring, designing, building, and running networks to one that is more agile and dynamic.
NaaS addresses many of the needs of today’s enterprises in the following ways:
- NaaS facilitates flexibility to meet dynamic business requirements. The impact of as-a-service models are providing organizations with the financial flexibility to achieve continued business objectives without requiring significant capital investments all around, whether it is for compute, storage, or network resources. Covid-19 has spurred organizations to preserve cash and leverage subscription-based models to alleviate major capital investments required for large deployments. Planning cycles have shortened. NaaS offers a more stable and predictable planning process for operational budgeting. HPE Aruba COO, Vishal Lall, speaks about this in his interview with CRN.
- NaaS empowers organizations to keep pace with innovation. Technology is changing rapidly. The pace of technology oftentimes makes some equipment obsolete and staff unprepared for change. NaaS enables a methodology for organizations to keep equipment and resources up to date with quicker tech refresh cycles through updating or upgrading licenses. NaaS provides the ability to meet line-of-business requirements to launch new services and capabilities faster. Extended services can ensure maximum performance and keep organizations safe from security vulnerabilities from any out-of-date equipment.
- NaaS minimizes operational risk. Oftentimes, the addition of services for NaaS deployments mitigates risks with proactive management capabilities. The proactive management capabilities can come through artificial intelligence (AI) and/or machine learning (ML), or highly skilled networking experts to ensure the organization is maximizing the deployment with the latest product features and functions. The proactive management approach is designed to optimize performance and operations, and to correct any issues before they cause an outage. Optional resources can offload constrained staff resources or services can be implemented to manage parts or the entire network.
Networking has certainly been the latecomer in terms of as-a-service offerings. However, consumption for cloud-based technologies has grown. Planning cycles have shortened. Network boundaries are diminishing. Technology continues to evolve and change rapidly. Meanwhile, new business demands and the dynamics of Covid-19 realities have brought to light the need for NaaS as the workplace requirements and technology have forever shifted.
Click here to learn more about Aruba’s NaaS offerings.