Keep Up With the Pace of Change with Network-as-a-Service (NaaS)

How NaaS ensures the network will always be ready to support what the business needs.

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By: Scott Dennehy, Edge Innovation at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company

Enterprise network use cases are expanding at an historic rate. Hybrid work, edge computing, the explosion of connected devices, and the constant threat of security breaches have made keeping the network’s hardware and software capabilities up-to-date an almost herculean task.

Further complicating matters are smaller IT budgets and shorter network planning cycles, driven by the impact of COVID-19. Large capital expenditures for IT and multi-year network plans are now viewed as too risky by many organizations, making it more challenging for network teams to fund and execute their strategic projects. 

At the same time, the speed of business continues to accelerate. Organizations must be agile in order to be competitive, and having a network that can consistently enable key business outcomes is critical. But how can we ensure that networks remain up-to-date and agile to keep pace with ever-increasing business demands? By utilizing network-as-a-service, or NaaS, as an alternative way to fund and consume network infrastructure.

How NaaS ensures the network doesn’t fall behind business needs

Similar to other as-a-service models, NaaS offers a way to accelerate procurement, deployment, and management of network resources. Instead of taking a waterfall development approach by investing significant up-front capital and resources to design, build, and operate networking infrastructure, organizations can pivot towards an agile approach of consuming critical infrastructure services, paying only for what they need when they need it and funding the infrastructure in an affordable way that ensures the infrastructure keeps pace with the rate of innovation, both in terms of technology and business objectives. Following are several ways NaaS can achieve this:

Network budgeting

Up-front purchasing models for network equipment require accurate budgeting, which is far from an exact science and often results in organizations either over- or under-estimating costs. In addition, since the up-front capital required can be substantial, it usually means a more complicated, stringent, and time-consuming approval process. NaaS not only simplifies the budgeting process by combining all hardware, software, and services (e.g., support) in a single, all-inclusive, monthly subscription, but it also ensures upgrades happen when needed through pay-as-you-go capabilities.

Network planning

Before COVID-19, many organizations had three or even five-year network plans and could count on things remaining relatively unchanged. However, the pandemic showed just how quickly and drastically those plans can be turned upside down – some organizations were not prepared for how rapidly they needed to shift network priorities from on-campus to remote access connectivity for employees or students, and as the economy slowed, some retailers were forced to alter store location strategies. The painful adjustments triggered by the pandemic have made it incredibly difficult for network teams to accurately predict what their needs may be in the future. With NaaS, only active locations and equipment are paid in the subscription, with additional locations and equipment added on a pay-as-you-go basis. For example, a retailer doesn’t need to guess how many locations will be active across a three or five-year period and then budget for those locations centrally. Instead, NaaS allows network services to be expensed and funded on a per-store level. 

Customer experience

One of the many benefits of the as-a-service model is the ability to easily attribute cost to consumption. In other words, it’s easy to understand how much the application or infrastructure is being utilized, how that utilization aligns to the monthly subscription cost, and make adjustments as needed. This is typically provided through a self-service, cloud-based portal/dashboard from the vendor. In a NaaS model, customers can view their entire network environment, adjusting their subscription up or down based on their needs while gaining valuable insights into network inventory, known issues/cases, end-of-service/end-of-life, or security notices specific to their equipment, etc. 

Network operations

As network application use cases increase, so do the day-to-day processes of network setup, onboarding, device management, troubleshooting, upgrading, resourcing, etc., putting additional pressure on “lean IT” organizations that are already stretched too thin. For example, keeping up with new software releases for all devices in the network is a full-time job in and of itself. In a NaaS model, the day-to-day management of the network can be offloaded to a third-party provider so that a network team doesn’t need to worry about patching, applying new updates, or figuring out which features are applicable to their environment. NaaS also automates manual processes such as troubleshooting and onboarding and can even fix issues before they impact end users through proactive monitoring. This further simplifies operations and enables the network team to focus more of their time on strategic initiatives to support the business.

NaaS removes financial and resource hurdles

Ongoing digital transformation and emerging use cases continue to present financial and resource challenges for networks trying to keep pace with the rate of change. While technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) promise to simplify network operations through automation, AI/ML is not a panacea and the challenges of network budgeting and planning post-COVID-19 cannot be solved by technology. By consuming the network as a service, enterprises can greatly simplify and accelerate the process of procuring, deploying, and managing networks, ensuring business objectives can be achieved.

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