Networking as a Service Emerges from SDN

SDN will soon bring with it service-based networking, upending traditional network models in the enterprise.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Jul 14, 2016
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The software defined network (SDN) is rolling out faster in the enterprise than many people anticipated, which is putting organizations on the fast track to not only streamlining network infrastructure but managing connectivity on a service basis.

Networking as a Service as a consequence of SDN

Networking as a Service (NaaS) is actually the more profound change that SDN brings to the table, because it alters the process of network provisioning and management, not just the technology. As such, it will involve a fair amount of retraining and most likely redefine IT’s role in the business process, which will increasingly come to rely on a DevOps operational model to push business development and productivity.

The market itself is on pace to see 35.76 percent compound annual growth between now and 2020, according to Technavio, although the company has not publicly released an actual dollar estimation. The field incorporates a wide array of technologies and architectures, however, ranging from broad-based software platforms (some with integrated hardware) to specific connectivity and management solutions that can be hosted locally or in the cloud. In all cases, the goal is the same: to enable flexible, software-based networking services across virtualized infrastructure.

One of the ways this can be leveraged by the enterprise (and consumers, for that matter) is through utility-style network consumption. Plexxi and colocation provider Aligned Data Centers recently teamed up to provide a pay-for-use pricing model that will allow users to dynamically scale their resource allocation according to workload demands, effectively ending the over-provisioning that usually accompanies most cloud deployments. As Plexxi CEO Rich Napolitano noted on his company blog, the Cloud Builder platform on which the service is based enables businesses to match OpEx with business goals to a high degree. When combined with Aligned’s highly modular systems architecture, this provides rapid scalability and a building-block approach to resource provisioning.

Networking as a Service and traditional networking vendors

Supposedly, this is all very bad for traditional networking companies like Cisco and Juniper. But as Market Realist’s Adam Rogers points out, these firms are well aware of the need to transition from traditional vendors to managed service providers. As SDN gains momentum, enterprises will stop managing their networks and start programming them, which will ultimately prove cheaper and easier and will allow IT to start contributing directly to organizations' core missions rather than simply supporting those who do. 

The role of the WAN in Networking as a Service

But since most of these services will be carried across cloud-based infrastructure, wide area networks will play a crucial role, says SpringBig CIO Mark Horbal. SD-WAN solutions are readily available, but he cautions that deployments outside the firewall should place additional emphasis on security, business disruption and the essential risk inherent with “bleeding edge” technologies. Wide area services, therefore, should be rolled out in accordance with a well-planned migration strategy, continuous management and risk assessment and a user-facing development and deployment framework.

The best thing about service-based networking, or course, is that it is easy to undo anything that does not work satisfactorily. And in many cases, changes can be isolated to the application, which will most likely reside in its own container, so there is less of a chance that other processes will be impacted, as occurs all too often under traditional network architectures.

Service-level networking, then, will be a huge leap for the enterprise, further elevating network management off of infrastructure and into the more granular world of virtual resources and constructs. And ultimately, this will make the network services, and the people who manage them, even more valuable to the business model.

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