Redefining NaaS: This is the internet

Your network vendor has probably already told you that network as a service, or NaaS, will improve your network and your bottom line. You’ve probably been told that they offer a NaaS strategy. The first statement is true, but the second quickly becomes irrelevant because the fact is that you already have a better, vendor-independent NaaS option. It’s called the internet.

A recent definition of NaaS is more financial than technical – NaaS is a strategy to spend on network technology rather than building a network from capital purchases. Some vendor NaaS is little more than the equivalent of auto leasing, allowing companies to expense vehicles rather than making capital purchases. Others may add management services or usage fees. Is it really NaaS? Uber is driving as a service, not auto leasing. If we want a network as a service, we need to look at something that is actually a service.

Enterprises have evolved their applications to use the cloud as an advanced tool for creating user interfaces for customer, partner and employee access. Increasingly, application users are accessing the cloud directly over the internet or through an SD-WAN overlay to add security. Just as the cloud abstracts the hardware used to host applications into an invisible abstraction, the Internet abstracts network services. The Internet is the Uber of networking, a true NaaS, and starting with the assumption that the Internet forms the WAN part of enterprise networks, it can have a significant impact on costs for both operations and network service and equipment.

You don’t need to set up the internet or use your own rented or purchased equipment to create your connection. Users request an app through a URL and the magic of the internet creates a connection. You pay for internet service, not internet devices. You spend money online, don’t capitalize it. So the internet doesn’t provide IP connectivity as a service? Isn’t that a better definition, a technical definition of what NaaS should be? Not only that, the Internet as NaaS offers things that simply cannot afford infrastructure equipment.

Most of the costs involved in the vendor-NaaS approach are the hardware used to connect the branch locations to the VPNs. MPLS VPNs require a VPN and BGP router at each location. Internet NaaS only needs a simple hub or at most an SD-WAN edge device, which can be a device or just a server or software running in a white box. Let’s compare these two approaches to see why Internet NaaS makes sense.

NaaS value

Start with price. The Internet is based on a shared infrastructure and is driven by the huge consumer demand for Internet content. A global internet service sits there for you to use, driven by the collective demand for delivered experiences. The expensive hardware from these so-called NaaS vendors is still dedicated to you, and you’re going to pay for it one way or another.

Then there is the network service. Even IP VPNs that use shared infrastructure can’t compete with Internet prices, especially for branch offices and even regional sites. The latest broadband data says that 2Gb internet service is actually growing faster than 1Gb service. Check out 2Gb VPN and you’ll see what I mean about comparative pricing. Remember that an SD-WAN edge is much cheaper than a BGP edge router.

Skill sets

Then there are the operations. Some vendors will offer managed hardware services, but this will increase the cost. If you don’t choose the managed service option, you’ll need a network support team with BGP/MPLS smarts. It’s the skill set that network operators and equipment vendors value most, so you can expect to pay to get that team and then have to fight recruiters for every carrier, vendor, and enterprise to keep them. Even if you succeed and get good people, BGP/MPLS errors occur regularly and affect network and application availability.

Internet NaaS will require either an SD-WAN to be managed or some additional layer of security (perhaps SASE or a combination of encryption and firewall tools) to protect the applications themselves. Businesses that use the Internet to communicate with customers and partners may find it relatively easy to add access to employees over the Internet, using only access security tools and encryption. This approach needs to be explored, but SD-WAN is the closest to traditional VPN technology, making a gradual transition from traditional VPN to internet NaaS possible via SD-WAN.

You can purchase SD-WAN technology as a product suite or as a managed service. If you really want to avoid capital purchases, the latter is the way to go. The cost of an Internet SD-WAN managed service will depend on the usual factors, such as the number of sites and the amount of management you can expect, as well as where the sites are located. There are many variations, but businesses that have moved to internet NaaS tell me that the total cost of ownership is much, much lower than a managed IP VPN.

There are other advantages to the Internet NaaS approach. One of them is the ease of moving, adding and changing sites. You can get internet services almost anywhere you have a business office, and you can get them fairly quickly. Getting an MPLS VPN connection often takes longer, and in some locations you may not get it at all. You can also increase or decrease capacity on the fly. If you move an office, you can usually just ship the hardware to the new location and it will work.

A final benefit that may be critical for many enterprises today and in the future is that the internet NaaS approach connects the network more directly to applications. The Internet is really about connecting users to resources where traditional enterprise networks connect sites. The Internet is NaaS personalized. Delivers your experiences, and it does so within a geographic reach and population of users that no other network technology approaches.

The internet isn’t perfect. Everyone has experienced its failures and performance limitations, but no network technology is perfect. The three businesses I spoke with that replaced multiple branch-site VPN connections with internet NaaS said their reliability/availability experience was somewhat poor, but not so bad that they would consider returning. No one said otherwise. Either way, it’s likely that the internet will only get better over time. Embracing Internet NaaS can make it better and make NaaS happen faster. In fact, it would mean that we have already realized NaaS and it is time to use what we have.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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