Over the last 15+ years, enterprise IT has come to embrace Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Streamlining computing and storage with the arrival of cloud services has reduced pain for IT professionals and developers while accelerating time to market, improving scalability, and reducing costs. Most enterprise networks, however, are still designed, deployed, and managed the traditional way — either buying vendor products and managing in-house or relying on outsourced IT services.

Network as a Service (NaaS) offers an alternative: What if, instead of designing and managing networks, IT teams could leverage one vendor for their entire network (hardware, installation, management, and more)?

On the surface, it sounds great. But why wasn't NaaS available when SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS went mainstream? The answer is necessity.

The current state of IT

A few things are true in the IT world. The average IT team size has remained static for decades.1 Companies are hiring non-IT talent faster than IT talent, increasing the proportion of employees each IT professional must support.2 And the number of young people learning networking and wireless skills is decreasing.3

Plus, networking requirements today are more demanding than ever, with more devices online, more complex capacity requirements, and more helpdesk inquiries.

For example, a 100,000-square-foot warehouse network for a retailer in the early 2000s might only have needed to support a handful of PCs, a few printers, and some basic equipment. Today, that same network might need to support thousands of devices, ranging from computers to sensors to autonomous robots.

This truth about the internet world — that IT teams are overbooked and understaffed yet asked to manage increasingly complex networks — has necessitated a change in how IT teams design, install, and manage networks.

In the past, IT teams had to pick between products or services

Traditionally, there was no “one company” that would build the hardware and software, design the network, install the hardware, and manage the network. Instead, teams had two options:

  • Product-centric businesses
  • Service-centric businesses

Product-centric vendors focus their business on building hardware and software, not deploying it. This was all most people cared about, especially back in the 'old days' of IT. IT professionals had many questions when independently setting up networking and Wi-Fi for a building: How powerful is the hardware? How easy will this be to configure? How will this interoperate with the rest of our network?

Product-centric vendors would ensure IT teams receive quality products, configuration, and security. However, because hardware companies usually do not specialize in network design, deployment, management, and support, IT teams would be left to do that independently. While challenging for IT teams, that was the accepted status quo. 

Networks have become more complicated over the years, and product-centric vendors lacking DNA in the deployment and maintenance of networks have fallen behind. Although they've made strides in implementing new features such as Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 support and enhancing radio density, they fall short in critical areas like troubleshooting support, radio resource optimization, and user interface simplicity. Wi-Fi 6E and Wi-Fi 7 access points are useless if customers have issues planning, deploying, configuring, and managing the Wi-Fi network.

During the early 2000s, service-centric vendors began to crop up as a reaction to these increasing difficulties. These were companies that, while not hardware specialists, could assist enterprise IT with all the service-focused aspects that hardware-centric vendors could not.

Service-focused vendors focus on value-added services like network design, deployment, management, and support. Examples of service-centric vendors are managed service providers (MSPs), value-added resellers (VARs), and communications service providers (CSPs). These service businesses rapidly gained popularity as overworked IT teams embraced these pairs of helping hands.

Some service-focused vendors were — and still are — small shops of talented IT people assisting their peers. Others are large service companies with several offerings.

Nevertheless, there are limits to what service-focused vendors can do without control over the product. Cracks appear around configurability, observability, and scalability. While these service providers can provide ongoing feedback to the networking vendor, they can't make software, firmware, or hardware changes themselves. Hence, fixing issues and troubleshooting becomes a time-consuming and expensive proposition. Advanced service providers sometimes develop automation and monitoring tools to support their customers, but they are rare, and these tools aren't always fully baked. Service providers are constrained to building solutions on top of a product without control over the product itself.

Additionally, service coverage and scalability can become an issue, as many well-loved service providers operate locally, or regionally. This may be fine for an initial or second location. Still, lack of national or global coverage makes it difficult for enterprise IT to get consistent service as their company scales.

NaaS offers a new, improved way to approach networks

As networks grow in complexity and IT teams are asked to do more than ever, leaders have started to ask: "What if there was a best of both worlds? What if IT teams could get great products and services, all from the same company?"

These are the dreams that NaaS aims to make possible. But there is an issue.

As analyst Roy Chua writes for AvidThink, a research firm, “the term NaaS encapsulates a broad range of services” and has “many faces”.4 NaaS is attractive for IT teams and is a big market that all types of companies want to enter. This isn't bad, but it means that one company's NaaS offering may differ completely from another's.

If you, the reader, were to embark on a search for a great NaaS offering right now, there's a good chance that many of the offerings billing themselves as "NaaS" are not, really, the idealized version of NaaS you read about at the beginning of this post.

Instead, many of the current NaaS offerings are either:

  1. Individual pieces (but not all the pieces) of the whole puzzle. 
  2. A subscription model tacked onto a traditional product or service-focused business.

The companies in Category #1 might combine more product and service pieces into a single package than you would see, but they typically don't do it all. You might see a service-focused business that includes hardware as part of its offering but does not design and produce the hardware themselves. You might see a product-focused business offering network design as an additional service but not truly specializing in network design. Or, you might see a company offering management-as-a-service and billing it as NaaS, but it's truly not. (This wouldn't work for cloud infrastructure, and it doesn't work for local infrastructure either.)

The companies in Category #2 may have a NaaS-like, subscription-based pricing model, but their fundamentals are often not different from those of the traditional businesses we discussed earlier in this piece. These businesses have the same drawbacks for IT teams. 

To be clear, these companies can be excellent. At Meter, however, we have a different vision.

What NaaS means at Meter

First, we do not believe IT teams or network engineers will be replaced by software (AI/ML technologies included). They should be able to reap the benefits of NaaS while having visibility and control over their networks. IT teams should not have to compromise on product or service quality. They should get the best of both. Ten years ago, we set out to create what NaaS should be.

We provide everything an IT team needs (hardware, software, deployment, and management) to run, manage, and scale internet infrastructure for a business. We charge a fixed price per unit area for these services—customers aren't on the hook for significant capital expenses upfront. This model incentivizes us to keep customer experience as our north star. It gives us the incentive, know-how, and ability to improve our product's features, ease of deployment and manageability, and performance. This is, in our view, what true NaaS looks like.

IT teams use Meter to achieve important outcomes:

Hardware refreshes
IT support
ISP management
Network security
Total rate
Traditional process
Installation: Vendor
Hardware: 3rd party reseller
Hardware refreshes:Expensive upgrades
IT support: Managed service providers
ISP management: DIY
Network security: Software licenses
Meter Network
Fixed monthly rate

Find and negotiate with the best internet service provider (ISP) available

We take this task — often frustrating and time consuming — off IT teams’ hands to get them the best rate and a smooth installation.‍

Design the network for optimal efficiency

No two spaces are the same. We spend a significant portion of the process on network design in order to make sure every single inch of the space has strong coverage. This is closely tied to the underlying software.

Install the network with our custom hardware

We design and supply IT teams with our enterprise hardware, which we'll install with the IT team (with as many racks, security appliances, switches, and access points as needed).

Thoroughly test the network

We’ll make sure things work like they’re supposed to.

Deploy and configure key networking applications

We configure and install important network applications, like SD-WAN, VPN, and DNS security.

Manage the network

We've built exceptionally resilient technology that keeps the network running even when problems occur. For example, if an access point goes out, the system will automatically compensate by increasing the strength of a nearby device.

Ensure continuous visibility and control

Within our dashboard, IT teams have the autonomy to configure as needed. Our integrated platform offers real-time visibility and network insights, expediting troubleshooting processes.

Provide a team for ongoing support or maintenance

We have a team of network engineers that act as an extension of IT teams to troubleshoot issues and answer questions.

While the existing NaaS companies provide much value, our vision for networking differs from what has been built so far. 

We are network engineers building for network engineers. We believe in excellence in both products and services. We believe the people who build hardware and software should be responsible for it. Ultimately, we believe that networks should be a utility, like electricity and water: provide an address and floor plan, and the networks just work.

1 Data from 2003 showed the average IT staff:total company ratio was roughly 1:27. Those numbers, according to Workforce, have not changed much in 2 decades — IT teams might be even smaller today — despite the fact that today’s networks are more demanding than ever.