Finding a reliable WAN provider

When looking for a wide-area networking (WAN) provider, price should be the last thing on your mind, according to a new Info-Tech Research Group report.

With Canadian enterprises becoming more and more geographically dispersed, the need for a highly available and reliable WAN has become essential, according to the research firm.

Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst at Info-Tech and author of the white paper, said that planning your company’s performance requirements before you enter into a service contract is the first step to a successful WAN implementation. That means evaluating the geographic coverage area needed, the service offerings required, and the service guarantees the providers are promising.

“You’re going to look for ideally the most reliable network and also a really strong Service Level Agreement (SLA) to go along with that,” he said. “It also has to have pretty stiff penalties for the carrier if they don’t meet their SLAs.”

Tauschek said a key point to consider in this regard is how much control the service provider has over the SLA. In Ontario and Quebec, he said, Bell Canada owns the vast majority of last-mile infrastructure, which means they are often in charge of the copper going into your business.

“If you buy from a provider and they wholesale that last-mile from Bell, they don’t have any control over it and if there’s a problem they’re going to Bell as a customer to get it resolved,” Tauschek said. “You need to determine if your provider will have enough power with the owner of that infrastructure outside their control to get the issue resolved quickly enough and stay within their SLA.”

Getting around the last mile is possible by using reliable wireless or satellite connectivity, he added. For companies deploying national or global WANs with multiple providers, a similar issue is likely to arise, Tauschek said.

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And with real-time voice and video increasingly being delivered over IP networks, traffic prioritization is also important, the research analyst advised. If voice or video is being carried via the WAN using carrier-managed Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) VPNs, the service provider must prioritize traffic for all regional and branch office locations.

Depending on the skill set you have in your company, Tauschek said, enterprises will want to consider whether they need a fully managed, co-managed, or unmanaged service. “Big companies might be able to create their own MPLS if they’re so inclined, but typically you’ll want to go through the provider and their network,” he said.

He said pricing should be a factor only in cases where multiple providers can provide the same set of services and guarantees should companies worry about the bottom line.

Other analysts, such as Peter Brockmann, vice-president and research director at the Aberdeen Group Inc. agreed. Best-in-class companies see WAN services as a necessary business infrastructure and don’t let price get in the way as much as average companies do, he said.

“Cost is still the number-one challenge for the best-in-class companies,” Brockmann said. But these firms measure their WAN availability and performance better, to get the most from each dollar, he added.

“They have the processes, organization, knowledge and technologies to respond more directly to the challenges of operating WANs, and managing the transition to advanced services like Ethernet WAN or MPLS.” Those newer services offer benefits including lower network complexity and higher scalability, he said.

Aberdeen also advised companies to deploy tools and processes to frequently measure WAN availability, audio quality and service performance – including a 24/7 network operations center (NOC).

With files from Margaret Locher, CIO (US)

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