Choosing network vendors and service providers

Choosing the right networking partners and products is essential to your long-term success as a reseller. Learn how to choose wisely using this tried-and-tested methodology.

As a value-added reseller (VAR) in the networking channel trying to grow a business, you need to work with the very best vendors, tools and network service providers. This tip presents a time-tested methodology for evaluating each.

The evaluation process presented here can be applied to vendors and service providers, their equipment and services. In general, this process consists of using products from network analysis and architecture to develop an initial set of options (termed seeding the evaluation process); conducting discussions to develop a complete set of candidate options, along with criteria to evaluate those options; gathering and developing data to apply to the evaluations; refining evaluation criteria and developing ratings; applying criteria and ratings to prioritize the candidate options; and modifying the set of candidate options, with the goal of selecting the optimal candidate. This process is shown in Figure 10.6.

FIGURE 10.6 Vendor, equipment and service-provider evaluation process

This is an iterative process. There are times when an optimal candidate can be found with a single iteration of the process; at other times it may take two or three iterations to produce an optimal result. The number of iterations depends in part on the complexity of the evaluations, how well prepared you are, and how well you and your evaluation team perform the evaluation. As you get used to the process, you will be able to get results with fewer iterations.

Ideally, a template can be developed that can then be applied to each and every evaluation, making the process straightforward, predictable, and reproducible. That is what this section strives to provide. However, we also recognize that, depending on the project, some evaluations may have their own unique characteristics. In all cases I have found that this process can still provide excellent results.

Although this process can be applied to evaluate vendors, vendor equipment, and service providers, it is important to note that we do not want to combine these evaluations into one. Keep each evaluation separate—do not mix vendors, vendor equipment, and service providers—as this will confuse the evaluators and overly complicate the process. For example, some of the evaluation criteria for vendors will be different from those for service providers, and trying to apply criteria to both concurrently would be problematic.

An important part of this process is that you will develop a detailed set of information regarding how your evaluation decisions were made. This information can be used to help reduce or eliminate disagreements that may arise regarding your vendor, service provider, or equipment selections. Such disagreements tend to be more likely as the design budget increases.

Example 10.1.
It has been my experience that a large part of the design process is often spent resolving protests brought by vendors, service providers, and even a subset of the evaluators, disagreeing with a selection (often a vendor selection). The evaluation process presented here will provide you with plenty of documentation with which you can resolve or even avoid such protests.

For example, I have participated in vendor evaluations where Vendor A is the popular choice, while Vendor B has the best technical solution. Without a process for evaluating and selecting vendors, Vendor A would have been chosen as the de facto choice, without regard to its inferior technical solution. I have used this process to help make it obvious that the technically superior vendor should be chosen.

Evaluating vendors and service providers for networking projects

  How to choose vendors, tools and service providers
  Seeding the evaluation process
  Having conversations about prospective networking partners
  Gathering data on prospective networking partners
  Refining your criteria for prospective networking partners
  Developing ratings for prospective networking partners
  Modifying the list of prospective networking partners
  Determining the order of evaluations for networking partners

Reproduced from Chapter ten of the book Network Analysis, Architecture, and Design by James D. McCabe. Copyright 2007, Morgan Kaufman Publishers, an imprint of Elsevier Science. Reproduced by permission of Elsevier, 30 Corporate Drive, Burlington, MA. Written permission from Elsevier is required for all other uses.

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