Peeling back layers of a managed IP VPN

Managed services are gaining popularity in the enterprise community as a cost-effective and secure method of addressing increasingly complex business communications. In parallel, IP VPNs continue to entrench themselves further into enterprise network architectures to support a wide range of IP-based applications including IP telephony. That is why the enterprise market has recognized the value of a managed IP VPN.

If you are an enterprise user contemplating this service for your business, what are the key items to consider in your decision process?

A managed IP VPN solution can yield significant benefits to an enterprise user over traditional network solutions. The convergence of business applications and communications services over a common infrastructure requires a wide range of bandwidth options, quality of service, any-to-any interconnectivity and flexible remote access. Enterprises migrating toward network convergence will realize the greatest benefits of a managed IP VPN solution.

There are a number of managed IP VPN providers in the market today. Some of the larger carriers include AT&T Corp., MCI, Sprint Corp., Infonet Services Corp., Equant NV, Global Crossing Ltd., BellSouth Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., SBC Communications Inc. and Qwest Communications International Inc. Other smaller IP VPN providers include Masergy Communications Inc., Virtela Communications Inc., SAVVIS Communications Corp. and XO Communications Inc. Since every provider’s solution is different, it is important to understand each company’s approach to addressing your business communications requirements. The success of a managed IP VPN solution in an enterprise network can vary greatly depending on its ability to support the critical needs of a business.

Enterprise Recommendations

Gather and define current and future business application requirements. Work closely with the various business units supported by the IT and telecommunications groups to create an accurate and exhaustive list of business communications needs at least 12 to 18 months out. These needs should be prioritized then compared to the current and future capabilities of the IP VPN provider. If your decision process includes the future need of features on a provider’s road map, get commitment of delivery in writing with penalties for lateness.

Walk, do not run…unless you are trained and in shape. If you are considering the migration to a managed IP VPN solution, evaluate varying degrees of usage for that service in the network. You may find that initial use of the service as a backup or secondary solution is a more comfortable arrangement until you can adequately assess its effectiveness.

Evaluate a wide range of potential providers. Include IXC, RBOC, value-added network providers and systems integrators in your RFPs. If you require domestic and international support, the IXCs and global network service providers will be best suited to address your needs. If your business is domestic or regional in nature, you may find RBOC and CLEC solutions effective. A thorough evaluation of each provider’s solutions will uncover the best fit.

Conduct due diligence on providers included in the evaluation. First, require customer references that you can contact directly. In particular, ask for references that are either in the same vertical industry or have a similar network architecture and application requirements. Second, evaluate the provider’s track record and financial stability. Finally, if your network requires international connectivity, determine whether service providers provide ports via network-to-network interfaces (NNIs) or via their own physical infrastructure.

Zeus Kerravala is a Yankee Group vice-president, Application Infrastructure and Software Platforms.

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