Navigating federal IT modernization: choosing between NaaS and HWaaS

In the ever-evolving landscape of federal IT modernization, Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) has emerged as a transformative solution.

In the ever-evolving landscape of federal IT modernization, Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) has emerged as a transformative solution, promising a new delivery model to drive advancements in government enterprise networks. Yet, for many federal agencies, its counterpart Hardware-as-a-Service (HWaaS) may be the more appropriate centerpiece of an IT strategy for continuous modernization. Here’s why.

Understanding NaaS through the “Three O’s”

NaaS, at its core, revolves around three fundamental principles known as the “Three O’s”: ownership, operation and outcome. It departs from traditional ownership models, involves operational and service elements, and aligns with customers’ business or mission objectives.

  • Ownership – In an as-a-service offering the customer is paying for access to something that they do not own. NaaS departs from traditional ownership models and should not be confused with acquiring assets over time like customers would in a conventional leasing model.
  • Operation – In an as-a-service offering there is some level of operations or services being done for the customer. NaaS offerings involve a spectrum of operational and service elements, such as platform management, infrastructure oversight and network optimization.
  • Outcome – In an as-a-service offering, the model is aligned in some way to the customer’s business or mission outcomes. The essence of NaaS lies in its alignment with customers’ mission or business objectives. It delivers results, whether through service level agreements, consumption tracking, or other metrics tied to achieving critical goals.

NaaS applies these “Three O’s” to a delivery model for network functionality. Based on this philosophy, it delivers an outcome to customers so that they don’t own the burden of building and managing their own networks, mirroring what cloud service providers accomplished with cloud-based data centers. NaaS also goes beyond what legacy network managed services providers (MSPs) did in the past with focusing primarily on operation & management services (O&M).

The promises: Reducing technical debt, accelerating modernization, and simplifying lifecycle management

For many agencies, NaaS can be a solution to pressing issues, such as reducing technical debt, accelerating modernization, and simplifying lifecycle management. Yet, while it holds substantial promise for addressing federal government challenges, several concerns can hinder its adoption.

Technical debt refers to the backlog of outdated technology and infrastructure. NaaS offers an effective solution to address this challenge by providing a predictable, all-inclusive operational expenditure (OPEX) cost model. This model can help remediate technical debt more quickly while alleviating budget constraints, a significant contributor to the accumulation of technical debt across the federal government.

When it comes to government modernization efforts, the primary focus often centers on upgrading networking hardware, software and licensing. However, the modernization of network configurations, designs and architectures tends to receive less attention. NaaS presents a unique solution that encompasses both aspects. It can be used to optimize and modernize network designs and architectures with the guidance of industry experts. This inherent capability within NaaS offerings allows federal customers to stay at the forefront of technology adoption.

NaaS offerings also help to offload the burden of lifecycle management from the customer to the NaaS provider, while providing better asset visibility and shorter refresh cycles so you have the newest technologies without the need to worry about aging assets.

The challenges: Ownership of hardware and maintaining control of mission-critical networks

For all its many promises, NaaS does have some important challenges it must overcome to be appropriate for all federal networks, especially those that are highly sensitive.

NaaS operates on the premise that customers pay for hardware use rather than ownership. This poses questions about how federal customers handle scenarios like “termination for convenience” clauses in federal contracts, especially when that hardware is essential for critical missions and cannot be removed from its environment.

Due to the sensitive nature of federal networks, a full-scale NaaS offering may be overkill. In mission-critical scenarios, agencies and departments still need to retain control over the operation and management of these networks. The comprehensive operation and management services typically associated with NaaS may not align with the specific requirements of certain environments.

Enter Hardware-as-a-Subscription (HWaaS)

HWaaS focuses on the core NaaS capabilities that resonate most with federal customers while addressing the terms and conditions necessary for federal contracts and resolving concerns related to hardware ownership.

HWaaS operates on an all-inclusive operational expenditure (OPEX) pricing model, covering critical components such as networking hardware, software, licensing, installation services (Day 0), modernized deployment services (Day 1) and asset management services. Notably, HWaaS does not encompass managed services (operations and maintenance), allowing federal customers to retain control over their operational and sustainment activities while benefiting from other vital NaaS features.

Additionally, HWaaS offers comprehensive network assessments, design and optimization services to ensure that your network architecture remains up-to-date and modernized. Knowledge transfer and training services are also provided to facilitate a seamless handover to your operational teams.

The advantage of HWaaS for federal government

The HWaaS offering is built in a way that incentivizes the NaaS provider to implement the offering as quickly as possible, in coordination with an agency’s network operation teams, ensuring a swift and efficient deployment across the entire enterprise.

HWaaS can offer significant value and benefits to federal customers, including:

  • Faster tech debt reduction: HWaaS offers a single subscription-based consumption model that consolidates hardware, software, licensing, and Day 0 and Day 1 services into a predictable annual cost, allowing for the quicker elimination of technical debt.
  • Flexible modernization options: Based on your specific needs and requirements, HWaaS offers modernization options for areas like wireless, software-defined networking (SDN), automation and security including solutions like comply-to-connect.
  • Optimized and modernized architecture: The offering focuses on optimizing architecture to eliminate oversized hardware footprints and facilitates the rapid adoption of new technologies.
  • Simplified lifecycle management and asset management: HWaaS includes a contractor-managed lifecycle management program with a predictable and reliable technology refresh cycle every five years. It also provides enhanced visibility into asset deployment on your network.

Overall, HWaaS represents a significant step for federal agencies on their journey towards aligning network consumption models and outcomes with the seamless experiences delivered by similar as-a-service offerings, like cloud services. The strategic decision-making process between NaaS and HWaaS allows federal IT leaders to tailor their approach to IT modernization, ensuring efficiency, flexibility and continuous advancements in government enterprise networks.

Wade Lehrschall is principal strategic architect at Iron Bow Technologies.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories

    Social Security

    As SSA IT modernization hits its stride, leadership launches a reorg of the CIO’s office

    Read more