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Operating in a world where almost everything is turning into software-based and essential aspects of the network are aiming to be automated and programmable requires new ways of delivery workflows and systems.

Considering this, the digital transformation journey of service providers and telecom operators has already progressed. Still, there is a long way to go. Included in this path is reaching a certain level of maturity for cloud and automation technologies. Ergo, the emergence of as-a-service models.

Helping enterprise customers achieve productivity, cost-effectiveness, and scalability is network-as-a-service aka NaaS. This new digital business technology approach is redefining how organizations revamp their connectivity and network capabilities. 

Investing in NaaS-enabling technologies and capabilities is just the tip of the iceberg. Bringing its full business potential to life affects the overall delivery, setup, and configuration of network connectivity hardware and software – going beyond the services delivered.

With the NaaS market estimated to be valued at $15 billion by 2025, more and more industry players are diving into network virtualization, optimizing resource allocation, and enabling value-added services, among other benefits.

Transitioning from the traditional network model that requires high CAPEX for physical networks with switches, routers, and licensing, NaaS can make virtual full-fledged data networks that can deliver specialized services and vast market opportunities. Hence, despite the increased complexity of network management involving mobile devices, remote access, IoT devices, and cloud services, the configuration and activation of third-party services like NaaS is an ideal solution.

The business processes might be under strain due to the heightened customer expectations, complicated regulations, and a shortage of skilled resources, but jumping into NaaS can lay the groundwork that places them in a better position to resolve issues and adopt agile principles.

Outlining NaaS: Services and Characteristics

Billions of dollars are invested in cloud-native technologies that are deemed to be essential for NaaS. In a 2021 Nokia survey, 83% said that network function virtualization and cloud-native evolution were the most important investments to enable and optimize NaaS.

Indeed, telcos are now underway to shifting on NaaS architecture that requires a digital transformation of the network, underlying operational and business support systems (OSS/BSS) and processes, and internal teams.

Implementing a different level of automation, telcos are transforming the network layer through virtualization. By using APIs, they can conveniently transfer network functions to software and create a catalog of open services.

Along with this, six characteristics of NaaS are defined based on the NIST’s cloud computing definition. These include on-demand self-service, network agnosticism, high-resource availability, service-as-code, measurement, and assurance.

By and large, these characteristics imply that customers can automatically provision network functions and services (defined in code) and configure them in a number of ways. More so, these are defined with service-level agreements (SLAs) or service performance metrics.

Here are some of the most appealing NaaS models/features that enterprises can benefit from:

  1. Network security: A sophisticated array of security tools on top of regular networking features such as multi-factor authentication, automatic Wi-Fi security, DNS filtering, etc.
  2. Bandwidth-on-demand: A technique that assigns the capacity depending on the requirement between different nodes and users. Here, the rates can be adapted to the traffic demands of the connected nodes.
  3. VPN: The ability to get a working VPN-like solution out-of-the-box, without the responsibility for maintenance or management by enabling a host computer to send and receive data across shared or public networks.
  4. Unified communications: Meeting today’s high demand for reliable, full-spectrum communication, NaaS can provide managed networking capabilities as both a comprehensive service and a simple transport method.
  5. Data center services: The flexibility of the NaaS model makes it easy for companies to add and allocate data center network resources that are compatible with respective certifications.
  6. Mobile edge computing services: NaaS capabilities will manage the connectivity between users and the edge computing platform to achieve dynamic adaptation of network performance.

Among the prime NaaS service providers are MEF, Cisco, and Cloud Connect by PCCW Global. “Verizon values MEF LSO APIs because they drive end-to-end automation, resulting in improved customer experience and lower total cost of ownership," said Aamir Hussain, Verizon Business SVP and chief product officer, and chairman, MEF. "They are a great example of how Verizon Business and MEF work together to improve digital transformation for our customers and deliver on our Network as a Service strategy."

More than 23 companies, including Verizon, are working with MEF’s Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) because of accelerated service delivery and time to revenue and improved customer experience and loyalty. They leverage these benefits upon implementing MEF-standardized APIs for the automation of B2B interactions.

Delivering frictionless service provider commerce, the MEF LSO API Framework is a set of software development kits (SDKs) containing APIs, tools, and documentation. On the other hand, Cisco Plus NaaS solutions combine best-in-class networking, security, and observability capabilities, with AI-driven insights and automation to drive network performance and cost optimization. Part of the package available at the end of 2021, Cisco’s SASE architecture converges networking and security in the cloud with end-to-end observability from the user to the application.

Additionally, as a pioneering NaaS platform, Console Connect enables enterprises to connect to 450+ data centers in 50+ countries. Moreover, it connects clouds, applications, and business partners in a simpler, fast, and secure way. Based on PCCW Global's leading MPLS network, organizations turn up layer 2 on-demand connectivity between global data centers and help businesses securely connect to all major public cloud providers, Internet Exchanges, SaaS providers, and IoT partners.

Why NaaS: Benefits and Thresholds
One of the biggest advantages of NaaS is removing the trouble of managing and maintaining the network from the client’s side and letting the service provider take care of it.

Service providers can offer their enterprise customers a network that they can manage and adapt to their specific needs. Hence, through this approach, network administrators can exert total control on the allocation and provisioning of the bandwidth, allowing boundless flexibility for network capacity and scalability.

Shifting network services to the cloud also saves the cost of investing in and running the network infrastructure. This is particularly beneficial to businesses that are running applications with thousands of users. Moreover, for companies with seasonal or sudden bursts in workload, NaaS permits instant ramp up and down of network capacity with just a few clicks.

Providing targeted services to specific verticals, microservices are at the heart of the NaaS model. In this way, upgrading or modifying those services is done promptly in response to customer needs. Containers isolate applications into self-contained units that can be deployed almost anywhere, for greater agility. This conserves network resources because only what the customer needs is activated.

To enjoy all these benefits, a solid foundation is needed; from infrastructure and software lifecycle to network and customer management. That is why real-time, zero-touch automation is crucial for orchestrating microservices in NaaS offerings.

Beyond this, to provide full value to enterprise customers, NaaS has to be designed for cross-cloud service chains and existing platform integration wherein customer’s DevOps teams can access, consume, and customize easily via their channels of choice. This is vital for operations like charging, billing, rating, and account/balance management capabilities. NaaS also allows access to equipment refresh and upcycle opportunities that ensure the network’s peak performance levels.

To sum it up, a successful NaaS deployment needs connectivity, a self-service portal, and a marketplace to encompass all the potential and opportunities it can offer. Bringing together wirelines, wireless, SD-WAN, and other technologies, virtual network functions and value-added services are trends for business cloud innovation.

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