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Getting the most out of a managed WAN implementation

Marketing materials paint a rosy picture, but a managed WAN implementation can be a challenge for enterprise network engineers.

The managed WAN implementation arena is, more often than not, a marketplace full of frustration.

Marketing materials paint a rosy picture, but once a managed WAN is implemented and in operation, IT managers often find reality completely different -- and discover that managed WAN implementation is badly needed. The average managed service can actually act as a bottleneck, since getting things done now require certain -- and bureaucratic -- processes. Whether your business is better suited to DIY provisioning versus a fully managed approach is largely determined by your own internal processes, resources and capabilities. Some factors to consider:

Do you have the expertise for managed WAN implementation?

The modern enterprise WAN is multifaceted. Setting up a managed service and running managed WAN implementation requires skills that may include familiarity with advanced routing and system architecture. While a relatively flat network with a few hundred users might be a fairly simple configuration exercise for a network engineer, a network with thousands of users requires greater knowledge.

Support and break fix

The typical managed support contract has two key elements: fault diagnosis and hardware replacement. In most instances, the provider will enter into a service-level agreement (SLA) that defines how quickly it will respond to problems. If hardware replacement is needed, then the SLA would govern how quickly the new gear would be shipped to your location. If you're managing your own WAN, then you also need to have the resources to ship and install hardware as quickly as possible in the event of a system disruption. In many cases, a hybrid approach might work best: a hardware support contract from a major service provider coupled with an agile internal help desk.

The promise of true SD networking revolves around the ability to manage your services via feature-rich applications.

Installation project management

Circuit installation and provisioning is perhaps the biggest challenge associated with WAN procurement. Many times, problems that occur are a result of processes that are outside of your control. Over and above the process, other challenges exist -- from negotiating right of way to the physical construction required to deliver the circuits to your location. In a managed WAN, the provider will supply the project manager needed to orchestrate the installation. If you're going to manage the WAN yourself, make sure you have personnel who possess the skills and information needed to get the job done.

Change requests

The majority of DIY WAN implementations occur because the business requires agility when making adds, moves and changes to the network. WAN providers have been criticized in the past for being too slow in meeting customer requests for changes; in response, many have launched self-service portals engineered to allow customers to make changes to bandwidth in real time. However, if your business demands are ever-changing, constructing an in-house support team is crucial. Just make sure the team is as experienced as possible.

Managed WAN services are, for the most part, cost effective. The majority of the commercial costs stem from tail circuit provisioning and upfront hardware expenses. DIY WAN services can end up being more costly, since the level of investment required in support teams, monitoring and resources can be significant.

Will SD-WAN and the cloud make things easier?

The arrival of software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) should, in theory, allow for simpler deployment of services. The promise of true SD networking revolves around the ability to manage your services via feature-rich applications. In reality, we are yet to see how this ease of interaction with your WAN will play out in business terms. At one level, the technology is exciting, but at another level, the same overall challenges exist. Support and deployment will very much remain a component of any managed service, regardless of how software-driven it may be.

The WAN has always been a cloud-based service. The difference today is the ability to deliver cloud-based applications across WAN connectivity. To that end, the cloud could make certain DIY connectivity options easier to accomplish.

For additional information, request Robert Sturt's step-by-step MPLS procurement Field Guide.

Next Steps

Choosing a managed WAN provider

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Selling managed WAN services

This was last published in April 2016

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