In this blog series, we presented 8 Fit Points for a tailor-made SD-WAN solution that can make all the difference in your business. In this fourth and last installment, we explore the last two critical elements to success: the roles of service levels and partnerships.
One of the most critical early decisions to make as you assess your current and future networking needs is whether to pursue a Managed Service Provider (MSP) or do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. Such a decision requires having a clear understanding of your needs. Do you have remote workers who need secure access to the network’s resources? Are you relying more on cloud applications? Do you have plans to rollout new technologies, devices, or service capabilities?
Armed with such insights, you can then consider the level of skills and expertise you have in-house. This is especially important if you are transitioning to a Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN). Also, think about the time and energy it will require to either develop or recruit the skills and resources you may need. Even if you have the in-house capabilities, you may decide to use your own resources for more business-critical items and use an MSP for certain expertise and services. The right MSP partner can provide access to a broad buffet of service options—from fully managed offerings to “bring your own broadband”, to shared service models that will enable you to deploy portions of a DIY approach and use a hybrid model elsewhere as desired.
To determine which approach will best fit your business, pinpoint how much service coverage you need by asking the following questions:
- What level of technical expertise do you have in-house?
- Do you need extended hours or 24/7 coverage?
- Can you deploy a large-scale network change without interrupting your core business or do you want a partner to help ensure a smooth transition?
- Do you want or need zero-touch provisioning?
- How much time over the next 5 years do you want your team to devote to network maintenance and updating?
- How quickly will your team be able to adjust network behaviors to reflect changing business practices or technology deployments?
- Do you anticipate the need to run test pilots in one location, followed by a roll out of a proven proof of concept elsewhere?
- Do you have a help desk and ticketing system that needs support?
With a clearer understanding of available resources (and gaps) you can then consider your service level requirements.
Ensuring Service Levels
Typically, with an MSP there is a service level agreement (SLA) in place to address and guide certain aspects of network service, like its quality and availability, and to specify who is responsible for managing performance. Even if you apply a DIY approach, it is essential to consider how you will ensure network service levels. For example:
- Are you ready to assume the burden of staying current with the latest technology updates and advances?
- How much time are you willing to expend managing the day-to-day operations, especially if they require extended hours, 24x7 coverage, or on-site support?
- Is your team equipped to handle network optimization tasks?
- Do you need access to network analytics?
- Will you be dependent on manual processes? Or, are you willing and able to invest in integration with all your vendors and Internet service providers (ISPs) to achieve efficiencies?
- Will you be transitioning away from MPLS and toward broadband? And, are you willing to take on the management of multiple ISPs and service plans across the network?
As Gartner noted in its DIY vs MNS report (2017), based on an organization’s IT capabilities, an MSP is the recommended way to deliver network infrastructure if you are not operating at an advanced capabilities level. Even if you can deliver at this heightened level of service management, you may still choose to use an MSP over the DIY approach because you prefer having a lean IT team, are focused on reducing CAPEX or other cost control measures, or are building agility and scalability into your operations. While a fully managed solution may carry similar costs as the DIY option when viewed from a TCO perspective, the benefits associated with greater capabilities, improved team flexibility, expanded network automation and optimization efforts, and greater efficiencies in execution of day-to-day operations and maintenance tasks will pay quick dividends.
Ultimately, you should consider whether your IT staff might be best served by focusing on improving operational or business processes rather than on managing your network. And whether you want a reliable partner who is able to not only look ahead to trends and market changes, but also handle the day-to-day patching and release updates associated with network maintenance. Again, while fully managed solutions may be pricier, there is no doubt the MSP offers greater capabilities at a similar cost while also providing a simplified and more direct way toward meeting or exceeding SLAs with the business owners.
Preserving Your Partnerships
You’ve invested great time and expense in your network. And you may have components in your technology stack (along with technology partners) that you like and want to continue to use. Maybe you rely heavily on Cisco for all your routers and switches. Or, you consider Fortinet security to be a must-have component of your overall security architecture. It’s reasonable to want any new solution to work with parts of your existing infrastructure and for it to include your preferred technology partners.
The right MSP partner should be willing and able to integrate your favorites into your SD-WAN solution. There should be no need to sacrifice what’s already working for you. The MSP should also be able to deliver best-of-breed options to close specific capabilities gaps. In this way they provide a blended solution that is truly tailored for your business. Some MSPs, such as Hughes, have forged their own partnerships with industry leaders like Cisco, Fortinet, and VMware that can deliver added benefits.
To identify which stack components and partners to preserve, ask yourself these questions:
- What parts of your infrastructure currently perform well?
- What would you like to keep?
- Do any parts of your infrastructure hold certifications or meet compliance regulations that you’d like to hang on to?
As we close this 4-part blog series, remember that by using the 8 Fit Points as your guide, you can assess your current situation and consider your network needs thoroughly and holistically. You’ll be able to look far beyond the numbers to better understand which decisions will lead you to an SD-WAN solution that fits your business just right.