Nile Bets on AI Networking with Performance Guarantees

This syndicated post originally appeared at Network Computing.

Nile offers consumption-based pricing, masks all the legacy complexity of operating a network, and makes use of AI to bring the benefits of the cloud delivery model to the network.

Network provider Nile just announced that its Nile Access Service is getting a new solution architecture, including Nile Service Blocks and Nile Services Cloud, along with a few AI application categories (Nile Copilot and Nile Autopilot). The company says this announcement combines cloud-native service delivery and AI-powered closed-loop automation for campus and branch IT infrastructures.

For those unfamiliar with Nile, the company launched last year and offers networking as a service (NaaS). While many vendors use the term “NaaS,” it has many meanings. Some have the customer buy the hardware, then get a software subscription and call that NaaS. Another model is to make the customer responsible for choosing the hardware, and then the vendor will charge a monthly fee, akin to a lease model.

Nile’s definition follows the as-a-service definition that the cloud providers use. The customers pay for utilization and service guarantees, and the provider determines the underlying infrastructure. Nile offers a pay-as-you-go service that scales up and down based on usage. Nile makes the hardware and software invisible to the customer and is responsible for the maintenance and performance.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Özer Dondurmacıoğlu, VP of Marketing, about the details of Nile’s most recent announcement and gain his insights into the role of AI in networking.

Nile redefines network-as-a-service

“If you think about the history of the last 20 years, there was and still is an effort to migrate from on-premises infrastructure — things like management controllers, access points, and switches,” Dondurmacıoğlu told me. “And then there was the idea, ‘We can consume the service monthly or annually. That’s what’s generally called network-as-a-service. But it never reached the potential of software-as-a-service.”

Compared to software-as-a-service, network-as-a-service still requires significant manual work—and is very focused on the benefits that accrue to the vendor. “I never worry about upgrading my instance because it’s done for me,” he said. “It’s truly software-as-a-service. On the other hand, if I get switches from my incumbent vendor and sign up for their maintenance program, guess what? I still select my hardware options and must figure out my software releases.”

Nile says it has automated the design and activation of its Nile Access Service, from site survey to bill-of-material creation to installation work order management. The service maintains its best state by proactively identifying and resolving deviations from its baseline performance. It automatically tackles trouble tickets without costly troubleshooting and tech support workflows.

“So, the news is we are embarking on our initial entry to the market with a distributed solution—what we call an AI networking solution with performance guarantees,” he said.

Nile gets an infusion of AI

The new Nile offering is comprised of the following components:

  • Nile Service Blocks: According to the company, each block represents a collection of physical Wi-Fi sensors, Wi-Fi access points, access switches, or distribution switches. “They’re blocks of network equipment from small to large,” Dondurmacıoğlu told me. “Sometimes one side has an access switch, sometimes it has an access switch, AP, and distribution switches. And sometimes, they have sensors—physical and virtual—to test the network on their own.

The service blocks, which integrate zero-trust networking principles, are designed and delivered automatically to provide secure connectivity. They don’t require manual configuration or software releases because they utilize cloud-native delivery principles and a microservices-based architecture.

  • Nile Services Cloud: Nile says its Services Cloud offering uses real-time observability and optimization of Nile Service Blocks by utilizing both model-centric and data-centric AI technologies. The company says its approach includes some innovations for AI networking, including:
    • Automated day survey, design, and installation
    • Service blocks with digital twins to simulate network operations
    • Zero-trust edge-to-cloud security built into the service blocks
    • High-efficiency real-time data collection from service blocks
    • Closed-loop automation that keeps the network up-to-date
  • Nile AI Apps: Nile has released several categories of applications to help IT admins and end users, including:
    • Nile Copilot applications that help with provisioning the service blocks and monitor outcomes
    • Nile Autopilot applications that handle manual NOC functions like software maintenance

Some final thoughts

Nile’s approach is interesting as it attempts to disrupt the networking industry through a new delivery and pricing model. Over the years, history has been littered with companies that have tried to disrupt by building networking products that were a little faster or cheaper but with the same pricing model, and most have failed. Nile’s approach is to give customers what they need – consumption-based pricing that masks all the legacy complexity of operating a network. AI is now prominently featured as part of their solution to finally bring the benefits of the cloud delivery model to the network. This is a big departure from the “tried and true” model so many engineers are comfortable with, so it will be interesting to see how rapid the uptake of a true NaaS offering is.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.