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The Rise of Network-as-a-Service

Jim Hodges
6/14/2019
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In order to remain relevant in both a business and technical context, communications service providers (CSPs) must continue to transition existing services to virtualized network function (VNF)-based services that run in a multi-tenant cloud environment. This is a vital step since it enables CSPs to deliver a much broader suite of progressive services. One service that stands out here is network-as-a-service (NaaS).

The value proposition that is fueling NaaS growth is that by leveraging the programmability of the cloud, CSPs can create highly customizable VNF-based services for any party who requires a full scope of services or specific network capabilities and does not want to deploy their own infrastructure. By adopting this model, the network conceptually becomes a service in itself compared to the legacy model, where the network was simply a foundational service delivery artifact.

Given its inherent flexibility, NaaS continues to gain market traction as it is evolving. In the first phase of NaaS deployments, the focus was on leveraging the multi-tenancy capabilities of the cloud to provide customers with low cost access to services for a specific contracted period based on their usage patterns and requirements. In this phase, NaaS was first paired with SD-WAN to support low-cost service deployments with a premium-service feel.

Technologies driving continuous evolution
However, in only a short period of time, we have seen NaaS evolve into a new phase as potent technologies such as automation are introduced into the cloud. One leading NaaS automation use case gaining market momentum today is to utilize the technology to facilitate high-value automated security services that can be purchased on either a temporary or permanent basis. Some of the value-added security features gaining momentum include the introduction of proactive network monitoring and security policy enforcement, supported by advanced firewall and packet inspection capabilities.

We are also witnessing the adoption of more flexible usage-based billing models and dedicated customer support resources to further expand the NaaS value proposition. Another consideration of this phase is the ability to provide end users greater control over service execution through the integration of a customer portal.

Preparing for the future: the public cloud and a NaaS-based services marketplace
And, looking forward, another phase of NaaS is now developing. While still being defined, some of the attributes that are emerging include the expansion of running NaaS VNF service workloads in public clouds and the adoption of a NaaS marketplace.

Although the transition of running telco services in the public cloud domain will likely be a gradual process, there is already initial demand for this capability for greenfield service applications. The attraction here is that the public cloud is well-suited to deliver any service that has demanding compute requirements. It is also well-suited for a CSP that wants to enter a new market and minimize investment risk by foregoing the need to make an infrastructure investment. One example of an early adopter of this approach is Orange, which is now providing messaging services in Spain utilizing only public cloud resources.

An additional significant consideration is the emergence of a NaaS-based services marketplace. In this model, commercial demand for VNF-based services leads to the formation of an open marketplace where any customer can purchase any VNF service running in a NaaS environment in any cloud. This marketplace also seamlessly supports the simplified usage billing models and advanced policy-based security services referenced above. Both these capabilities will become even more vital as the services marketplace widens when VNF services from adjacent markets such as Internet of Things (IoT) and connected cars start to attain commercial scale and run as dedicated slices on 5G networks.

As a result, future phases of NaaS will only continue to enhance and expand the value proposition scope for CSPs and customers alike. NaaS will support both parties as they continue on a journey that ultimately will take them to a service and marketplace domain that possesses few -- if any -- service limitations.

— Jim Hodges, Chief Analyst, Cloud and Security, Heavy Reading

This content is sponsored by Amdocs.

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