Looking Beyond SD-WAN to Network-As-A-Service
Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in networking thanks to the significant tangible benefits this technology enables. SD-WANs enable a network that is more agile while optimizing cost and performance. Enterprises have understood, and embraced, SD-WAN as a simple and effective way to manage complex distributed WANs, while providing an optimized app experience at the enterprise edge. SD-WAN enables communications service providers (Comms SPs) to offer enterprises a secure, flexible branch connectivity architecture that helps them move up from their traditional technology offerings like MPLS and Broadband.
This emerging architecture continues to evolve in a handful of important ways. As SD-WAN deployments around the world increase in number and scale in size, enterprises are exploring how they can more efficiently manage their branch IT/network deployments, beyond just connectivity. Traditionally, enterprise branches have relied on purpose-built hardware appliances for a range of network and security functions, from firewalls to controllers and routers. Increasingly, virtualized versions of these network and security functions are gaining popularity. Enterprises can reduce their branch office infrastructure footprint by running multiple virtual network functions (VNFs) via a Network-As-A-Service consumption model. This enables enterprises to graduate to a virtualized branch and accruing benefits that go along with such a deployment.
This market transformation represents an opportunity for communications service providers (CSPs) as well. Looking to go higher in the value chain, SPs now will have the opportunity to offer value-added services atop connectivity and SD-WAN in the form of Network-As-A-Service (Naas). Examples of VNFs that run in a NaaS deployment include virtualized routing, WAN optimization and related analytics that enable SD-WAN functionality, virtualized security services including next-generation firewalls, plus other network, communications or IoT-centric services. SPs have an opportunity to help enterprises with this transition from SD-WAN to NaaS by making these VNFs available in a self-service portal, with integrated service chaining, licensing and management. Offering these via a "services marketplace" that leverages automation can potentially help SPs improve customer experience, while bringing efficiency to sales operations.
Most Comm SPs do not have the operational platform required to offer this seamless upgrade path beyond SD-WAN. Manual processes are too often relied on for provisioning and managing virtualized network services, causing a lack of agility for spinning up and effectively managing branch IT services. Service providers need an agile, secure and scalable platform that allows for the automated delivery of services at the enterprise branch, not just SD-WAN, but other VNFs as well. The platform needs to be agile and flexible to support a range of third-party VNFs that run on it, while also being flexible enough to efficiently scale and extend these services out to many sites simultaneously.
SD-WAN continues to be an important technology for ensuring secure and efficient multi-link backhaul connectivity. Seeing benefits already accrued from cloud and virtualization, many distributed enterprises are looking at next steps of how they can support a virtualized branch that enables a Lean IT model. This represents an opportunity for CSPs to increase their value to these enterprises via NaaS, transitioning from a purveyor of connectivity services, to becoming a partner enabling a broader set of managed services that meet the growing demands of modern enterprises. In essence, SPs must embrace digital transformation themselves to enhance their operations and ensure they have a flexible, scalable and secure platform for shepherding their enterprise customers through the continued evolution of their IT and network environment.
Want to learn more about NaaS? Read about the top three requirements for a successful NaaS deployment.
About the author: Rohit Mehra is Vice President of Network Infrastructure, leading IDC's research practice in Enterprise and Datacenter Networks, and Telecom Infrastructure.