In the evolution of technologies, if we look at the first two decades of the new millennium, we saw mobility and cloud technologies being used to develop and deploy solutions that led the digital transformation initiatives for industry around the world. Then came the “things”, the various devices that started getting deployed and connected to the internet to allow new applications to be developed around them. The Internet of Things (IoT) today finds application in almost every area of industry. The data generated by these devices is used in analytics everywhere. This place where people, technology and data come together to do amazing things is known as the “Edge”. This could be in the fields of Education, Healthcare, Retail, Hospitality, Manufacturing, the list could go on. This has resulted in an explosion in the number of devices and data being generated at the edge. This data needs to be collected, stored, computed, analyzed and acted upon at the edge itself as sending it to the cloud and then waiting on a response after computation in the cloud can take longer and this latency may not be acceptable to a lot of critical applications running at the edge.
There has been a dramatic change in recent years where enterprises are shifting their licenses for enterprise networking infrastructure and management platforms from one-time capital expenses to subscription-based operating expenses. The next logical step is to extend this model of using only cloud-based management platforms for enterprise networks to include hardware and infrastructure components as well, along with flexible financial options in many cases, which has become the Network as a Service model. This model also allows them to have rapid access to new hardware and software platforms as they become available. This flexible consumption allows companies accelerate their digital transformation initiatives. This they can do as they can concentrate and spend more time on mission-critical and business strategic work instead of the day to day tasks of just keeping their network up and running.
There is an increased reliance of organizations on cloud services for mission-critical tasks and this has resulted in the need for the enterprise network to extend beyond just the datacenter and campus offices. The network is now expected to embrace the edge wherever it may be located. It could be in the cloud, a colocation center, or an Internet of Things device.
There are many networking challenges that are faced at the intelligent edge. Deployments are a mix of networks which include wireless, wired and WANs, and the management of these different types of networks needs multiple management tools and slows down the management and issue resolution process. Most of an IT Teams’ time is taken up by solving networking issues, leaving them little time to attend to strategic IT deployments and initiatives. Security of the devices is a challenge as there is an explosion of user devices that join the networks as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Visibility into each and every device on the network is a challenge that strains the existing IT platforms and management systems.
This is where Network as a Service (NaaS) can step in and take away the pain of day to day management from the IT teams. NaaS provides enterprises with an opportunity to outsource the day-to-day management of the network to service providers. It allows the network to be dynamically scalable and provides access to the most advanced hardware and software technology. Most important, it provides all this in a flexible consumption model delivered as a service.
The key benefits of Network as a Service are:
» Reduction of IT staff workloads.
Network as a Service includes all the key services such as deployment, monitoring, management and issue resolution, ensuring health and performance and decommissioning as well. This means that the IT staff can now focus on strategic business tasks.
» Improved refresh cycles.
A big advantage of NaaS is that updates and upgrades happen seamlessly. Organizations experience improved performance and less scheduled downtime due to newer equipment.
» Better cost metrics.
With the ML/AI being used to drive the operations platforms, the service intelligence allows enhanced insights into all aspects of usage, including power, capacity, bandwidth speeds, and service levels. This enables IT and business leaders to make strategic decisions about workloads and pending projects.
» Operational efficiencies.
The use of sophisticated tools and platforms ensures improved monitoring of all devices and products in the network and this provides important insights to the IT staff and improves response times and provides consistent operation levels at all locations.
» Optimized network performance.
Advanced automation reduces manual management of the network while the ability to remotely manage network operations provides increased visibility and analytics about all aspects of usage and bandwidth.
The Key Components
There are 3 key components to any good Network as a Service offering. These map to the three concepts of Connect, Protect and Manage (Analyze and Act)
The concept of connect is met by connectivity, which is the core of the service. Any organization can have a combination of networks which include wireless, wired and WAN. These are silos that are managed using different platforms and tools. A unified infrastructure approach would provide a single platform and pane of glass that can be used to manage all these different kinds of networks. There are various types of devices that make up the networks which include access points, switches, controllers, gateways and the software that runs on all of them. Managing all these devices to ensure that connectivity is maintained at the performance levels agreed upon in the SLAs is a big responsibility that needs to be handled successfully by any service provider.
Protect involves the identification, authentication and authorization of each and every device on the network and this poses a challenge that needs to be met by the security components that are part of the networking solution. With BYOD a norm in many enterprises today, it is vital that each and every device that comes onto the network is identified, authenticated and authorized for use as per the role given to that user. The ability to identify any malicious activity and isolate that device and quarantine it seamlessly is an important part of any security platform. The security platforms go by the premise that nobody is to be trusted and access has to be allowed based on the profiles and roles accorded to those users. This zero trust security is a very important part of any network as a service solution.
Manage involves managing, administering and operating the network. This is the most crucial part of the service as this is what ensures the health and performance of the network. The AIOps platforms have service intelligence built in to allow intelligent operations which provide network management, service management and insights and analytics into the service. The entire network can be managed through a single pane of glass which monitors the network for any threshold violations and raises intelligent alerts. Automation and workflows ensures that there is automatic case creation based on the AI and ML that drive these platforms. This ensures that issues are addressed immediately and there is fast resolution of the issues. The AI and ML assisted service intelligence engines also identify potential problems and proactively raise intelligent alerts and create cases so that problems and issues can be addressed before they actually occur. This is a major shift from the way a traditional Network Operations Centre operates which is completely reactive in nature, using the identify, remote login, analyze the problem, fix/escalate as required and then close the case, to a more proactive and predictive mode of operation which will identify potential issues and raise the necessary alarms and automatically create the cases that can be addressed or changes implement term.
To conclude, enterprises can benefit from the NaaS offering not merely by being able to move from a capex to an opex model but also by being able to reduce their IT staff workloads which will allow them to move away from the day to day task of managing their networks and concentrate on strategic business IT initiatives. NaaS will ensure that updates and upgrades will happen seamlessly and this will allow organization to experience improved performance and less scheduled downtime due to newer equipment being deployed as part of the improved refresh cycles. Service intelligence allows enhanced insights into all aspects of usage and service levels which enables IT and business leaders to make strategic decisions. Finally there are much improved operational efficiencies and optimized network performance which is a direct outcome of the user of the sophisticated AI/ML driven platforms and tools that are used to manage the networks as part of the Network as a Service.