IT pros interested but wary of network-as-a-service

IT pros interested but wary of network-as-a-service

Cisco’s latest 2022 Global Networking report about network-as-a-service finds concerns about disruption and loss of control, but interest in quicker access to new technologies and less time spent on netops chores.

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As IT pros evaluate the role of network-as-a-service (NaaS), they weigh the upsides of quicker access to new technologies and faster incident-response times against loss of control over security and potential disruptions caused by transitioning away from traditional networking, according to a new Cisco report.

These are among the results from Cisco’s survey of 1,534 IT professionals in 13 countries as well as interviews with 20 IT leaders that are compiled in the company’s “2022 Global Networking Trends Report: The Rise of Network as a Service (NaaS)

In it, Cisco noted that the industry is still defining what NaaS will look like but pointed to an IDC description of the technology: “NaaS is defined as network infrastructure that organisations consume via a flexible-consumption, operating-expense (OpEx) model that includes hardware, software, management tools, licenses, and lifecycle services, and is managed via a cloud-based platform.”

NaaS provides continuous access to the latest networking technologies through an on-demand or subscription-based model, Cisco stated. 

Typically, NaaS shifts the burden of day-to-day network management to a third-party provider and allowing enterprise network engineers to spend less time on repetitive network operations and more on making sure policy, performance and security are aligned to business needs, Cisco stated.

For enterprises, the as-a-service concept began as companies started to embrace cloud computing and its model of consumption-based capacity. 

IDC predicts that by 2022, 40 per cent of large-enterprise IT budgets will be redistributed due to adoption of as-a-service bundles in areas of security, cloud platforms, virtual workspace, and connectivity. More than 75 per cent of infrastructure in edge locations and up to 50 per cent of data-center infrastructure will be consumed in the as-a-service model by 2024, IDC says.

“Countless IT organisations are struggling to manage network complexity, respond to disruptions, protect users and data, and keep up with the accelerating pace of business,” Cisco stated. “To confront these challenges, many are investigating new networking models such as NaaS.”

Potential NaaS downsides

While the use of NaaS is in its very early days, there are concerns about it, Cisco’s report found. For example, 28 per cent of respondents said the cost and disruption associated with changing their existing infrastructure and operations were NaaS inhibitors, Cisco wrote.

“Understandably, organisations have a multitude of technologies and investments, many of which fall on different depreciation schedules. Other organisations have legacy technologies and applications that may not be a good fit for NaaS. And some simply don’t want to offload the day-to-day management of their infrastructure,” the report stated. 

While IT leaders share a broad set of concerns, a perceived loss of control is chief among them, specifically control over security (26 per cent) and performance (20 per cent). Thirty percent of respondents questioned whether they will be able to meet future demands if they adopt NaaS, Cisco stated.

“In actuality, NaaS is designed for greater on-demand scalability and faster support for the latest technologies. And security, performance, and other important control decisions still lie with the IT team,” Cisco wrote. The company has embarked on a journey to build a NaaS portfolio.

In the report Cisco said that IT leaders’ perspectives on NaaS seemed to reflect their overarching networking philosophies, primarily divided into two camps: “control IT” and “lean IT.” The ones with the former have not only a highly skilled staff, but also a strong belief that their teams should own and fully control the networking stack, Cisco stated.

Conversely, the lean-IT group seek to consolidate their IT, reassess routine versus value-added tasks, and find ways to offload infrastructure maintenance. Not surprisingly, the organisations with a lean IT mindset that have already shifted some of their IT resources to the cloud are very open to NaaS solutions, Cisco wrote.

Easing NaaS concerns

According to the report, 49 per cent of IT leaders and 57 per cent of network practitioners said the best timing and circumstance for adopting NaaS is while they are upgrading or refreshing their network infrastructure and are considering new technologies including 100 Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi 6, 5G, SD-WAN and SASE.

“Thirty-four per cent of respondents said adapting an existing (brownfield) site where networking technology is already deployed is the ideal scenario for NaaS adoption. Interestingly, only 26 per cent said a greenfield site would be the best fit for NaaS adoption. And only 23 per cent said a phased approach, where domains are upgraded one by one with NaaS, would be the best scenario for their organisation,” the report said.

Experts say before buying into NaaS, enterprises should determine how easy it is to customise the offering to their individual needs and how easy or difficult it is to adapt the services as their needs change.

Other findings in the Cisco report include that technology continues to evolve faster than organisations can adopt it. Thirty-five per cent of respondents recognise the requirement to continually deploy the latest networking technologies such as Wi-Fi 6, SD-WAN, secure access service edge (SASE), 5G, AI, and others as their top driver for NaaS.

When considering the technical attributes of NaaS providers and solutions, respondents prioritised a global cloud footprint for reliability, performance, and regional compliance (31 per cent), as well as ML and AI capabilities that enable continuous optimisation of the NaaS service (30 per cent). APIs, automation, integrated security, network visibility, and network flexibility also rated highly.

Meanwhile, multi-cloud access was identified as the top priority (40 per cent) for NaaS. By offering SD-WAN services, NaaS vendors can provide a consistent and optimised way to connect to a wide variety of cloud-based (IaaS and SaaS) applications.

In addition, 34 per cent prioritised security-focused NaaS offerings, including VPN, security information and event management (SIEM), secure web gateway, firewalls, and intrusion prevention and detection services (IPS/IDS). These can help protect users, devices, and applications consistently across multiple clouds and computing environments.

Delving deeper, 41 per cent said it is important for a NaaS provider to offer a consistent NaaS platform across network domains--access, WAN, data center, cloud. With many IT teams facing multiple environments, tool sets, and operating models, NaaS could consolidate network resources, policies, and operations.

Responding to disruptions (45 per cent) and accommodating new business needs (40 per cent) are cited as the top network challenges for 2021. At the same time, IT teams recognise the top NaaS benefit as freeing up IT teams to deliver innovation and business value (46 per cent). Another 40 per cent recognise NaaS as improving response to disruptions and 34 per cent as improving network agility.

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