WHAT ARE THE TOP 10 KEY AREAS YOU MUST CONSIDER WHEN PROCURING MANAGED WAN SOLUTIONS?

THE ULTIMATE IT MANAGERS WAN SOLUTIONS BUYERS PACK

IN ONE PACK, WE DELIVER:

1. Some of the lesser known WAN solutions providers on a Global and UK basis. The list is over and above the usual suspects, e.g the major telco's. (We have direct experience of working with these providers on projects to complement our work with BT).

2. RFP template and WAN requirements document, available to edit in MS Word or Apple Pages format.

3. The step-by-step IP VPN WAN buyers Mindmap. Every key area an IT manager must consider in an 'at a glance' style.

4. Access our 'Art of WAN procurement workshop'. Techtarget.com and WAN procurement expert Robert Sturt will take you through the latest technologies (think SD-WAN, MPLS vs VPLS, Diversity) using nothing more than a whiteboard and pen. Sessions are free and held at your office.

The free IT Managers WAN Buyers Pack

AN APPROACH TO IP VPN WAN DESIGN

Read on to learn about the top 10 areas of interest to IT teams.

1. WAN STRATEGY

Strategy, from the perspective of WAN procurement, requires an understanding of your business regarding growth, projects and time challenges. Our intent is to ask the questions to articulate clearly the challenges your organisation may face which may directly be improved by WAN connectivity.

  • What do our IT team need to achieve to support our users and the business?
  • What do we think is possible with regards to creating a new network managed capability?
  • What do we need to do to achieve our goals now and in the future?
  • How will a new or replacement WAN fit with our business strategy?
  • Is our business subject to change or growth?
  • What budget is available for networks, do we need to meet a specific cost for our next IP VPN?
  • How are we going to meet our objectives?
  • What are our challenges today and how should we prioritise solving problems?
  • What other initiatives do we need to consider – i.e. environmental, cloud, remote access use and network security?

In 2010, we set out to document or unlock the mystery of why the majority of WAN projects and solutions experience experience a high degree of failure. We're not there yet as we continually build on our dataset with the intention of improving every new project we encounter.

While there are certainly aspects of WAN delivery beyond any providers control, it is possible to identify and flag these and identify risks, pitfalls and opportunities allowing us to occasionally mitigate against the overall risk.

Our research has been extensively documented and released within a step-by-step Mindmap as a comonent of the WAN solutions buyers pack (above). If you're about to embark on a WAN IP VPN procurement project, the download is free and will provide insights, thoughts and ideas to benefit your IT team.

The key areas are numerous, spanning the necessary elements we know to be important including business strategy, budget, application performance including Quality of Service or application acceleration, circuit diversity and resilience, project management delivery, support and service management, statistics, security and cloud.

To build a picture of your strategy, we provide past real life examples of where we've successfully aligned the WAN with the principal strategic areas.

If your business is stable and there are not too many predicted changes, your IT team may choose a low complex, low feature based product. Whereas, if your market and business are dynamic and subject to change, you may wish to inject newer technologies into the mix such as SD-WAN. The majority of IP VPN WAN designs in use are now a hybrid of managed and wires only network data services including MPLS, VPLS, SD-WAN and Internet VPN access.

Analysis of your existing managed WAN access is a key corner stone of success. A study of application performance use - statics, data usage, latency and uptime is required together with a firm understanding of where an incumbent WAN provider is acting as a bottleneck rather than an enabler to your business.

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2. THE PROJECT MANAGEMENT OF NETWORKS AND DELIVERY

The delivery of WAN VPN services grows in complexity vs. the size and growth of an Enterprise. If delivery timescales are tight together with many dependencies and facets to your capability then advanced project management skills are required. Accreditations such as PRINCE methodology are a given.

Within Network Union, our objective is to understand the goals and work backwards to the originating request. Once we have an architecture, delivery of the end solution must be well documented with full risk analysis and dependencies.

Our initial work to establish project management objectives begins within the presales phase.

  • Why your organisation is embarking on this project?
  • What will you have at the end of this project that doesn’t exist with your network today?
  • Are you looking to deliver any further goals, e.g. cloud and security?
  • Are you excluding anything from this project?
  • Are there any overlaps with other projects, new expansions, LAN infrastructure?
  • What assumptions are you making?
  • What significant problems must you overcome?
  • What conditions do you have regarding the project, e.g. must be completed by a certain date?

The above bullet points may appear relatively simple, but they are an excellent way to begin an understanding of the project.

3. APPLICATION PERFORMANCE AND TECHNICAL

Understanding application data performance has a direct corolation to technology vs. reach vs. the laws of physics and functionality. The majority of Enterprise businesses embarking on a WAN procurement project often base their network application traffic performance on an SLA. However, we know the reality of packet latency is often variable and is often on the limits when dealing with global data circuits.

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To gain an understanding of application performance, we segment into delay sensitive, mission critical, important and best effort. We couple the application segmentation with statistical analysis of past solution performance or, when appropriate, add probes to analyse the traffic profile between selected sites.

Any organisation at the beginning of their MPLS IP VPN WAN procurement journey should consider how access technologies and solutions contribute to business success and decide on other capabilities, services or technologies of interest. Rather than consider specific products, inwardly looking at your business challenges often dictates which solutions will potentially solve problems or enable new ways of working.

  • How does the Enterprise communicate?
  • Do you prioritise certain VPN applications or rely on email, video or voice?
  • Are you utilising VDI (Virtual Desktop)?
  • What profiles are being used across remote users?
  • Identify the most critical processes relevant to revenue and customer retention for your business.
  • How well are the applications working right now and over time?
  • How much data is produced per application and what are the trends?
  • How fast does the data need to get there?
  • What security features and solutions must we apply, e.g. PCI DSS?

4. RESILIENCY - 3G, 4G, INTERNET LEASED LINE AND DIVERSE MPLS, VPLS NETWORKS

Many companies do not fully 'get' the impact of IP VPN WAN network downtime on their business. This is often the result of never actually experiencing the business impact. We constantly remain surprised by the amount of so-called diverse and resilient access solutions that fail when tested because of poor configuration or misunderstood capability.

While using an example of a financial institution which lost £5m might appear to be sensationalist, the figure brings home the importance of good failover design.

With an unlimited budget in mind, the ultimate managed data network architecture is typically dual Ethernet circuits routed with no single point of failure, known as RA02 (within BT) or Secure Plus.

These solutions will avoid any single point of failure, subject to survey, by implementing access tail circuits with diverse building entry points, diverse fibre routing, diverse local exchange sites through to diverse PoPs. (Point of Presence).

Where budget is more constrained, or the location requirements do not warrant a secondary failover circuit, access technologies and solutions such as:

Superfast Fibre Broadband (FTTC)

Fibre broadband as failover to primary IP VPN WAN circuits is a viable option when your Ethernet bandwidth is low. The greater the main circuit bandwidth, the greater the risk of congestion. Also, Fibre to the Cabinet Broadband may not be available everywhere.

EFM Access (Ethernet First Mile)

EFM bonds together multiple copper pairs to provide symmetrical bandwidth.

GEA (Generic Ethernet Access)

A newer technology for locations where Fibre to the Cabinet is available, GEA provides Ethernet handoff using Superfast Broadband technology.

The use of 3G / 4G mobile data connections

3G and 4G provide a more interesting proposition as, by virtue of being wireless, they are essentially completely diverse. With coverage growing and bandwidth becoming faster than the majority of broadband circuits, using wireless mobile data services could be a viable option. As with Broadband, coverage must be considered together with application latency - a thorough site availability test is recommended. With BT VPN services, bonding of SIM cards from multiple providers is now available.

5. MANAGED SERVICES COST

The cost of IP VPN WAN services is directly relational to the requirements of your individual sites. Your team must work carefully to align the key areas covered within the Mindmap component of the WAN buyers pack to achieve a competitive commercial outcome.

We also understand the need to hit win prices and budget allocations.

Buying WAN services on price alone will often end up in a misalignment of requirements vs. outcome. Where solution cost is the only driver, the value of any given service is diminished.

6. SUPPORTING YOUR SOLUTION

24/7 follow the sun helpdesk support is perhaps a given across all providers. Consider a WAN capability with resources that operates as a single team structure. The result is a much more agile support structure vs the typical telco process. The support staff can access technical design authority and service management resources as the end to end team members co-exist within the same NOC. Where support is required from in-country NOC helpdesk agents, the relationship is centrally managed.

The majority of countries are serviced by Ethernet, Superfast Broadband, EFM in country 3G and 4G data services. 

7. SITE MIGRATION TEST PLANING

A stable, well performing, multiservice network is always the required outcome. Without careful planning, design and deployment, the results are often disappointing.

With the above in mind, effective network testing is the best indicator of being ready for a production environment. Without testing, the entry into new WAN connectivity and solutions is often detrimental to application performance and in some cases could bring the business down for periods of time.

Within any IP VPN WAN deployment, testing of application performance and processes are important before site handover. In some cases, depending on your WAN complexity, lab time could be required to test solutions before deployment. 

Whether your business intends to use a test plan created by your own department, 3rd party or standard test processes, a clear outcome must be identified. For some, a successful voice call or thin client test represents success. In other cases, a more robust set of test procedures is a mandatory workflow.

Also, an understanding of procedures including support tickets, reporting portal access and escalation forms a component of our testing.

8. FAST START SOLUTIONS

There are various scenarios including temporary or new offices / sites where installing connectivity fast is at the core of requirements.

3G and 4G access using multiple bonded SIM cards with dedicated IPSec VPN devices are now a component of managed services. Wireless WAN services are available on month by month contracts with termination into MPLS or via site to site Internet-based VPN. 

9. IP VPN WAN STATISTICS AND REPORTING

We rely on statistics to understand your existing situation. At a base level, there is an expectation to achieve some basic functionality including uptime, application and packet performance and bandwidth usage.

With network today is more complex than ever resulting in the need to ever sophisticated and in-depth reporting functionality. The real win is to ensure complex data is presented in a clear and concise way so that any member of the IT team (technical or otherwise) would be able to interpret the information.

Some of the functionality includes:

  • Access Bandwidth, usage and trends over time
  • Analysis of end to end traffic/packet performance from host, LAN and WAN perspective
  • Packet loss
  • Application data performance per traffic profile
  • Quality of Service Reporting
  • Latency and Jitter
  • Site downtime

10. HYBRID DESIGN - MPLS, VPLS, SD-WAN AND INTERNET SOLUTIONS

Due to cloud, security and remote users, the majority of Enterprise network designs consist of hybrid services and solutions.

SD-WAN interest is growing fast as a result of the need to support multi-faceted IT environments. The average network (if there is such a thing) must now support traffic from remote users, office-based staff, home workers, extranet partners, cloud applications together with an overlay of security and of course, the capability must meet a certain budget.

One of the reasons why SD-WAN is becoming notable is the theory of cost reduction vs. MPLS. While SDN (Software Defined Networking) is a technology used on both private and public IP networks (Internet), the products marketed by most providers are offered as SD-WAN over the Internet. The benefit surrounds functionality - the capability to support any connection type with granular security and packet prioritisation. 

MPLS IP VPN WAN is still a current and viable option, even with reports of the technologies demise! With inherent in-built security and predictable traffic performance, MPLS is often the cornerstone of corporate WAN connectivity.

Further reading:

NFV

SDN

MPLS

VPLS

MANAGED 

VOIP

SIP

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