NaaS scores a try

The future of networking is not a former Springbok rugby legend... it's networking as a service.

Read time 3min 50sec

Networking as a service (NaaS) describes a range of capabilities in the networking space. For the purposes of this Industry Insight, I'd like to focus on NaaS only in relation to wide area networks or VPNs, and on providing NaaS in the domestic South African market as well as in the global network context.

In principle, however, the term NaaS has similar origins and meaning to more familiar terms like infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or software as a service (SaaS), where customers can access infrastructure that is flexible, short-term and basically on-demand.

This model lends itself just as well to networking as it has to other technologies and services. Take cloud IaaS, for example. For all intents and purposes, it revolutionised the traditional hosting market. Instead of companies buying hardware, loading operating systems and applications, and then putting them in a data centre, cloud providers have made this task considerably easier by allowing companies to spin up virtual machines on shared resources within minutes.

What's more interesting, and with significant implications, is that companies no longer need contracts, and in many cases, they can rent this infrastructure for a couple of hours or days, instead of 12 months at a time.

Enabling NaaS

Before I can go into the detail of what NaaS is and what options are available in the market, a base understanding of what makes NaaS possible is required.

Looking once again at cloud, and how it's possible to make it available as an elastic service, the simple principle is to ensure everything required to deliver cloud is re-usable in a short amount of time. In this lies a great amount of infrastructure and resource efficiency, which translates into profit.

Cloud, for the most part, is an infrastructure that leverages the power of the Internet. If a company has an Internet connection, it can connect to the cloud, establish its servers and applications, and let its users start working. Cloud, therefore, is usually only accessible if a customer already has Internet access. NaaS is inherently no different.

The 'bring your own broadband or link' concept is important to the ability to drive a NaaS offering. The reason is simple. Purchasing a business Internet connection from a provider, particularly if this involves installing fibre or an alternative, almost always requires signing a minimum 12-month contract. This is due to the investment in delivering the service, which cannot be recovered within the first few months.

NaaS is growing and can even be considered a relatively mature industry.

However, if companies can 'bring their own link', then this removes the one killer stumbling block to creating a NaaS offering: the need for a long-term contract. Removing this need allows NaaS to be offered on a required usage basis, in the same way SaaS and IaaS are provided.

NaaS today

NaaS is growing and can even be considered a relatively mature industry, given that some of the most significant global providers in this space have been operating, in some instances, for close to nine years. However, only now are companies starting to pay more attention to the benefits of this type of networking space, as they struggle to get to grips with the dynamic changes in cloud SaaS, as well as the ever-growing cost and inflexibility of legacy networks such as MPLS.

Today, I can confidently say there are some credible and even brilliant NaaS providers in the world, with one caveat: none of them currently offers the NaaS model without some form of long-term contract. Sadly, this removes one of the most important and powerful distinctions of SaaS and IaaS. For true NaaS to become available, the question is not if this will change, but when it will change.

It's clear that true NaaS offerings won't be rolled out until one of two things happens. The one option is for large service providers that offer NaaS to remove the long-term contract element of their Internet connectivity provision. The other option is to separate Internet connectivity provisioning from NaaS provisioning, which will open up the market to a range of independent NaaS providers.

Stuart Hardy

business development director of EOH Global Networks Division UK.

Stuart Hardy is business development director of EOH Global Networks Division UK. Hardy has spent 20 years in the South African telecommunications market working at executive level in and with South African telecoms companies. He is responsible for developing EOH’s global network and for driving global application and global WAN optimisation for EOH out of the UK.

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