The ‘as a service’ model has become widespread in business: everything from software and platforms to communications are now provisioned through the internet. The next stage is targeting the internet itself – or more precisely, the network.

By 2020, almost 70 per cent of all enterprise IT spending on infrastructure and software will be on cloud-based services as the cloud-first strategy moves to cloud-only, IDC is quoted as saying in a Colt whitepaper. As always-on cloud use rises, so does demand for high-bandwidth networks. Wide area network (WAN) provisioning must be upgraded to meet these demands.

WAN infrastructure must be considered alongside datacentre infrastructure, Colt says. At the same time, cloud-sourced services should be rolled in to WAN environments to ensure workload and application performance and security.

Virtualisation is the first step in the move to address these issues, with techniques such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV). WAN optimisation is the next step, and blends with the earlier techniques.

“It’s no secret that most enterprise IT managers and CIOs hate their wide area network,” said Colt portfolio manager Joachim Sinzig. “The WAN is typically an expensive, administrative nightmare, with lead times for bandwidth running into months.

“Over the last year or two, a technology has emerged that represents a more simplified and cost effective way to WAN; and while it doesn’t act as a silver bullet for all your wide area networking problems, it does address some of the biggest pain points well.

“In fact, SD-WAN has arrived so quickly it has somewhat caught the industry off guard… Predictions from Gartner suggest that by the end of 2019, 30% of enterprises will have deployed SD WAN technology in their branches, up from less than 1% in 2015.”

An SDN is provided by a third party, which also manages it. The most common reason to move to such a network is the outsourcing of management, but scalability is also a significant benefit. WAN bandwidth can be scaled up or down dynamically, depending on business needs, which avoids the over- or under-procurement issues found with physical legacy infrastructure.

Colt CEO Carl Grivner said, “We are now able to build intelligence in, around and through the network, creating a service that is ‘bandwidth requirement intelligent’ for the end user but is enabled by automated collective management for the operator. This is a resource which allows an organisation to dynamically provision, or self-provision, according to real time business requirements, which themselves are increasingly driven by user expectations and demands. Technologically this is a new era, but economically and commercially it’s even bigger than that.”

IDC believes that businesses using network on demand (or ‘network as a service’) can lower their related costs by between 10 and 28 per cent.