Definition

Network as a Service (NaaS)

Contributor(s): John Burke
This definition is part of our Essential Guide: SDN basics for service providers

Network as a service (NaaS) is a business model for delivering enterprise-wide area network services virtually on a subscription basis.

Configuring and operating routers and protocols, WAN optimizers and other components, such as firewalls or software-defined-WAN endpoints, can be complicated. With NaaS, those responsibilities are handled by a third-party provider and then made available to enterprise customers.

The functionality of the infrastructure may be included in a single NaaS flat fee, or the business may individually subscribe to each service, which can include optimization, firewall -- or other security -- and SD-WAN, depending on the service provider. Some NaaS providers have specific focus areas, like ultra-secure connectivity, ultra-simple configuration, or providing services to mobile and temporary locations.

Small or midsize businesses are the classic NaaS buyers, especially those with no existing investment in a WAN. With the rise of so many other as a service models in the last 10 years, however, larger organizations have become more interested in the option. NaaS can be especially appealing to new business owners because it avoids a lot of the capital investment expense for network hardware.

NaaS also reduces the amount of staff time required to maintain the network and reduces the level of training and skill required of network staff. With NaaS, the network essentially becomes another utility you pay for, like the electricity, water or heat.

In the NaaS business model, IT staff manage the organization's network through a portal rather than through a patchwork of network management tools and stacks of hardware. A new location can be added to the organization's WAN by connecting it to the NaaS provider's nearest point of presence (POP) either directly through a leased line to a nearby data center or over the internet.

Benefits of NaaS

Because NaaS minimizes capital investment, as well as staff time commitment, the business model is growing, thanks in large part to the rise of SD-WAN. One of the primary business concerns about NaaS is resilience -- guaranteeing uptime to a location.

Uptime concerns are addressed because SD-WAN technologies make it simple to use multiple network links to provide connectivity back to the NaaS backbone -- and potentially directly to other NaaS sites across the internet. SD-WAN technology also helps resolve concerns over traffic engineering for demanding applications like VoIP.

For these and other reasons, NaaS vendors often emphasize SD-WAN functionality in addition to the simplicity of deployment and management at the heart of the NaaS model.

Additional NaaS considerations

Other NaaS concerns organizations must address include how to deal with service-level agreements (SLAs), which are more common to NaaS in cloud services, and how to handle compliance issues related to data sovereignty. The question of who manages the last-mile connectivity that links each site to the nearest POP can be handled by the NaaS provider as part of the service, or it may be the responsibility of the customer.

See also: Managed network services, cloud provider

This was last updated in May 2018

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What factors besides the size of your organization’s IT staff could lead it to consider a network as a service option?
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