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4 attributes key to network-as-a-service model

For a network-as-a-service model to work for the enterprise, it needs to offer four key attributes: an application-specific, elastic, secure and personalized VPN.

Network as a service, or NaaS, represents the most important potential service development in networking, even though enterprises can't yet consistently define what it is. In this era of anything as a service, a network-as-a-service model certainly dovetails with modern thinking, but is it a networking revolution that could transform how enterprises connect their employees and applications?

Network as a service is an extension to the almost-universal VPN concept that retains what buyers like about VPNs, while relieving the limitations that reduce their benefits. Like the concept of cloud computing as a service, to be real, a NaaS offering has to be personal.

Targeting specific user features

A NaaS user would still be an IP network user and a VPN user, too, in a sense. But, instead of all users and applications being part of the same company VPN, with network as a service, each user and application would connect to a virtual network that contains only what they need and offers features specific to the needs of the NaaS community. As a result, a company VPN would be replaced by a personal VPN.

Like all network technologies, NaaS will have different features, but a utopian vision of NaaS is the starting point for all implementations. In that vision, NaaS should offer four key attributes. NaaS should be a personalized, application-specific, elastic and intrinsically secure VPN. These four points underpin the value of NaaS and explain why it is so important. VPNs are a form of site networking, meaning they connect sites. While a user or application may have access to a VPN and, therefore, be "on the VPN," everything at a given location has essentially the same service. Alternately, NaaS includes the ability to personalize the service for each user and offer a specific quality of service and even a specific view of who or what is on the network. VPNs are virtual site networks, while NaaS is a virtual user and application network.

NaaS should be a personalized, application-specific, elastic and intrinsically secure VPN.

NaaS model personalizes users and applications

To a VPN, everything is just "traffic." By contrast, NaaS is application-specific. Individual network applications can be treated differently, meaning the same personalization features available to users are available to applications. Video can be customized by type or by user. Some applications can be offered higher priority than others, regardless of user; others might have different attributes.

With a VPN, the bandwidth of the site defines the bandwidth of the service overall and every user and application located there. The network connects everything, and if some connections aren't allowed, it's up to something else, like a Firewall, to change the rules. So, NaaS is elastic in terms of how the network looks, both with respect to who and what can be reached on it and how much bandwidth appears to be available.

Finally, like all traditional IP networks, a VPN is fully connective by default. An IP address on a VPN can connect to any other address there, unless an additional element prevents it. NaaS is based on zero-trust security. As a result, a given user or application will "see" only what policy determines can be connected. No policy, no connection, which means NaaS is intrinsically secure.

NaaS creates tailor-made networks

Network as a service is the equivalent of having a network shaped for specific users. Because the users' network requirements are built in, they don't need to be added on. So, while VPNs are subtractive by nature -- you get a mass network, and connectivity features are subtracted to support your needs -- NaaS is additive, which means features must be added to be used. This model transforms how networks are used, sold and built, potentially impacting everything about networking as we know it.

A network service that automatically assigns each relationship the security, priority and capacity it needs is obviously a revolution on the demand side. This kind of network relationship is the connectivity equivalent of cloud computing; it scales depending on need, fixes itself when broken and adapts itself to everyone's mission. No wonder it's affixed with the "as a service" moniker. It's hard to imagine users who wouldn't want their own personalized network.

NaaS providers sell customization

Service providers can use NaaS to sell customization for each user or class of user, each application and each type of traffic. Even user-to-application relationships can be made to order. This presents new ways to make money and better ways to support older services that were once predicted to be revenue generators. Remember the "turbo button" bandwidth booster concept and the notion of elastic site bandwidth? NaaS would provide similar capabilities but under a policy that prevents users from prioritizing their own use over others'.

Nothing is more valuable than a service tuned to each user, and NaaS offers that potential. More value to the enterprise buyer means more differentiation and pricing power to the seller, too. But NaaS won't succeed without the proper implementation.

This was last published in April 2021

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