What is CaaS? Configuration as a Service explained

What is CaaS? Configuration as a Service explained
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Matt Albrecht, September 1st 2019

CaaS (Configuration as a Service) has grown to become a critical requirement in the successful digitization of network infrastructure. CaaS enables a multitude of benefits over classical configuration management. Today we'll explain exactly what CaaS is and how it can transform a business.

Before we define CaaS, it's worth going over IaaS, SaaS and NaaS to make it more clear.

IaaS and SaaS

Most engineers working in the IT industry are familiar with IaaS and SaaS. Cloud service providers like Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure) offer computing resources which businesses may consume remotely on-demand. For example, your business might host a web application or a mail server on AWS - the industry of this service model is known as IaaS - Infrastructure as a Service.

IaaS has advantages over traditional hosting methods - it allows businesses to no longer worry about setting up and managing the underlying infrastructure on the physical layer. IaaS essentially abstracts the physical layer away. Need more RAM, CPU or disk space on your application? No problem, click a few buttons within your provider's dashboard and the infrastructure will automatically scale up.

Similarly, a cloud service provider will often let you run specific software applications on their infrastructure such as Office 365. The software is installed and managed by the provider. Consumers of the service don't have to worry about the underlying operating system the software is running on or any other kind of compatibility issues - this is all managed by the provider. The industry surrounding this service model is known as SaaS - Software as a Service.

NaaS

And now we get to NaaS, Network as a Service - a much newer buzzword in the world of tech. Simply put, NaaS is a software-driven service model for the telecommunications industry in the same way that IaaS is a software-driven service model for the computing industry. NaaS is an emerging and fast-growing industry - a recent report published in March 2019 shows that the market size is estimated to grow to USD $21.7 billion by 2023 with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.3%.

Let's give a few examples of NaaS in the real world before we define CaaS.

  1. Bandwidth on Demand (BoD) - A customer requires more capacity on an Internet uplink. Traditionally, they would call up their ISP and place an order to increase their service speed. The order would then be manually actioned and may even require technicians to make changes to the underlying physical infrastructure. With a NaaS model, the customer may log onto their provider dashboard and increase the speed of their service; the relevant routers in the network will automatically be reconfigured in real-time.

  2. Network Configuration & Change Management (NCCM) - An ISP needs to modify the configuration of a customer VPN. Traditionally, the ISP would schedule a maintenance window outside of business hours for a network specialist to reconfigure the relevant network devices. With a NaaS model, an operator would log onto a portal where they can modify the VPN in real-time. It may still be appropriate to use a maintenance window for critical services but the fundamental difference here is that the actual configuration generation and deployment are abstracted away from the operator.

  3. Order to Activation (O2A) - A customer purchases a router from a managed services provider (MSP). Traditionally, a technician would be sent out to manually configure the router on site. With a NaaS model, the customer would simply plug the router in themselves and select which features they would like to enable from a dashboard. The configuration would then be automatically generated in the cloud and pushed down to router.

A NaaS application in practice is made up of a large number of microservices in reality - these microservices will typically include workflow automation tools, databases, operator dashboards and much more.

CaaS

Now that we have an understanding of NaaS, we can move onto the topic of today's post - Configuration as a Service.

If you think about the real-world examples of NaaS, you'll notice that each use-case involves the need for network configuration. CaaS provides this network configuration on-demand. CaaS will abstract configuration generation away from other applications within the IT stack.

The keyword here is "generation". The CaaS application will not manage the network infrastructure directly - it simply generates network configuration for a workflow manager or operator - the consumer handles the actual interaction with the network infrastructure.

Let's give an example of how CaaS looks in the real-world using our own CaaS application, Ultra Config Generator. When a user logs onto the UCG dashboard they create and manage templates of network configuration within a Template Editor. The Template Editor allows input parameters, business logic and configuration mark-up to be defined. These templates may then be consumed through two options.

  1. UCG Dashboard - The Generator Console within the UCG Dashboard allows operators to generate configuration by manually activating configuration templates - this approach is ideal for critical network changes which should be reviewed before implementation.
  2. CaaS API - The CaaS API allows workflow automation tools to seamlessly generate network configuration based on templates managed within the UCG application - this approach is ideal for fully automated network change management and O2A processes.

Hopefully this information has helped your understanding of this exciting emerging market!

If you hadn't heard of Ultra Config Generator until today I would highly recommend you check it out. We designed the product to allow network engineers to generate and automate network configuration in a highly flexible, efficient and elegant manner. Our customers love the application and I hope that you will too.

Take care until next time!

Ultra Config


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