Getting Software‑Defined Network as a Service (SD‑NaaS) Right

author imageBy Ajay Pandya|May 24, 2022|7:30 am CDT

While IT speak continues to foster the fallacy of “our network,” the truth is that a corporate network is never a single entity, but a network of networks. These multifaceted environments are complex to monitor and manage, triggering many IT organizations to opt for outsourcing their network management to a service provider. In this article we explore modern software-defined network services, understanding benefits, drawbacks, ways to get started, and considerations when selecting your provider.

Why do we need SD-NaaS?

SD-NaaS offers a new alternative to managing increasingly complex networks.

Managing and securing such multi-faceted networks—while also delighting today’s expectations for always-on cloud application services for users connecting everywhere—is a resource-intensive and stressful proposition. Consider that even before hybrid work became the new normal, network engineers were spending nearly 50% of their time troubleshooting their network systems. It takes a team of professionals to untangle what’s happening inside the IT environment before they can find the root cause and boost bandwidth in the right places to resolve issues. The job can be maddening—particularly when it becomes a finger-point game among providers. And with more digital- and cloud-based services entering the corporate network of networks, managing the provider sprawl becomes a bigger and bigger headache.

With more cloud-based services and last-mile providers entering the corporate network, managing provider sprawl adds complexity.

Software-Defined Network as a Service (SD-NaaS or simply NaaS), for example, delivers agile network services from one provider, helping consolidate vendors and erase the complexities of management. SD-NaaS involves purchasing a software-defined network (SDN) services contract to easily connect sites with various access options like dedicated internet access and public internet broadband, as well as private network connectivity. With SD-NaaS, a service provider connects the client’s remote users, applications, and office/home locations to their SDN or SD-WAN and offers to manage third-party internet service providers on behalf of the client. So, there really is “one throat to choke.”

What are the benefits offered by SD-NaaS?

SD-NaaS offers a number of additional benefits. Outsourcing some or all of the network operation to a provider will drive improvements to the client’s own internal IT team productivity. By taking advantage of a fully managed service, a company can realize IT efficiencies. The network team no longer has to monitor, manage and maintain the outsourced segments of the network. A further benefit arises from rapid connectivity. SD-NaaS enables companies to deploy a new location quickly. A process like procuring private MPLS-based WAN connectivity, which might have taken weeks, is possible in just days with SD-NaaS.

What are the drawbacks of SD-NaaS?

Like any as-a-service alternative to in-house operations, SD-NaaS can potentially come with drawbacks. For instance, the limitations of the provider’s own network can create problems with service reach and performance. Services stretch only as far as the network itself, available only where connections can be provided. Also, when an SD-NaaS connection is established using “best effort” public broadband and architected without redundancy and high availability, service quality may suffer. Performance tends to be limited by the quality or speed of the last-mile connectivity, but middle-mile can be a factor. Pay attention to service level agreements.

Customers may also be concerned about a loss of control due to “as-a-service” models. A client may have concerns about their provider’s service responsiveness and their ability to quickly make changes to bandwidth or control the client’s network resources. To address this issue, some SD-NaaS providers now offer a co-managed solution. This lets the client share the work of managing their network, bandwidth and firewall policies, for instance.

Check our guide, How to Get the Best Out Co-Managed Solutions.

What’s the best way to get started with SD-NaaS?

To help reduce any service continuity risks, clients avoid dropping their existing network operations and cutover, all at once. Instead, the best practice is to identify a suitable project or use case and build experience with SD-NaaS in that context before expanding the technology to other areas of the network. One example might be using SD-NaaS to extend WAN connectivity to locations in remote areas that are not easily served by MPLS. Or, it might make sense to pilot SD-NaaS as a low-cost backup connection at a large office for redundancy. In this latter case, the customer might have dedicated MPLS services, but needs a separate connection to satisfy disaster recovery/business continuity requirements.

Choosing the right SD-NaaS provider

Making SD-NaaS a success means finding the right provider. It’s a sensitive decision, because networks are foundational for effective business operations and hybrid work. Network slowdowns and outages commonly have significant revenue-generation related impacts on the business and can also damage a company’s reputation. It’s thus critical to differentiate SD-NaaS leaders from laggards.

What makes for a good provider?

Going beyond the basics, such as checking references and other due diligence tasks, here are the top criteria for identifying a SD-NaaS provider:

  • Global agility—the provider should offer a global software-defined network, built on an SD-architecture across all relevant global locations and points of presence.
  • Security and service flexibility come next. A good provider will offer a variety of network, cloud and endpoint protections in addition to connectivity and management options. Security technologies and controls should be built into the service offering, covering the entire IT environment. If an organization is employing the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) paradigm, then SASE support is an essential factor in selecting a provider.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) is non-negotiable. The SD-NaaS provider has to establish SLAs for highly consistent performance everywhere, as well as SLAs that address cloud connectivity. Making this work might involve using AI-powered analytics (AIOps) to predict and prevent outages.
  • From there, service experience counts a great deal. An effective provider is one that has dedicated resources for each account, including “white glove” services with easy-to-call top tier network operations center (NOC) analysts, fast outage notifications, escalation paths and Net Promoter Scores. The client ought to be able to track IT tickets in real time and call and speak to NOC analysts in less than 1 minute.
  • Control over the service also matters too. Each client will have its own needs and expectations, of course, but in general, the ideal SD-NaaS setup is one that provides a single online portal and service that enables the client to access all the same control features that the provider itself uses to administer and provision the service. That way, the client can make real-time adjustments to bandwidth and security policies as needed.  The client should get real-time visibility into network and application performance across both private and public links.

SD-NaaS is emerging as an attractive alternative to wholly in-house network operations. It can be a full or partial solution. In the beginning, a limited scope deployment is probably the best approach. The right provider will be one that offers consistent, fast SLAs, great service experience, service flexibility and service control. When a provider meets these criteria, the client can deploy SD-NaaS in alignment with its overall business and IT strategies.

Learn how Masergy delivers SD-NaaS through our fully managed SD-WAN solutions. Clients get a global software-defined network, industry-leading SLAs–even for cloud applications and services–as well as white glove network and security management services.

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