Optimizing and managing your WAN: When outsourcing WAN services makes sense

Many of today’s businesses rely on a WAN to keep their organizations running smoothly, and when the WAN has issues, the business has issues.
Written by Dan Toomey,, Contributor
Commentary - Has your business endured any of the following scenarios?

• You’ve lost time, revenue, and/or productivity due to security breaches, or to a virus or malware bringing your network to a screeching halt.
• You’ve dealt with the frustration of VoIP calls filled with echoes or static, or have heard complaints from employees about the network being unbearably slow.
• You have or you’ve considered buying more bandwidth or adding additional hardware, but you aren’t certain that these investments will solve the problem.

If these issues sound familiar, you’re not alone. Many of today’s businesses rely on a wide area network (or WAN) to keep their organizations running smoothly, and when the WAN has issues, the business has issues.

Economics, complexity driving many businesses to explore outside resources
The number and intensity of network attacks is on the increase, and at the same time, businesses are being pressed to keep costs as low as possible. But as security threats become more prevalent, the IT experts that can help you protect your company’s WAN from those threats are becoming harder to find and more expensive.

IT administrators are quickly realizing that the headaches associated with managing the WAN are overwhelming their current staff, and that their budget doesn’t allow for bringing additional people on board. Due to the economics and complexity of the situation, it’s no surprise that many businesses are looking for an outside resource to manage the physical hardware and software applications that make up their WAN.

Considering the true costs of an optimized WAN
Many businesses assume that working with an outside resource to create and manage an optimized WAN is a prohibitively expensive proposition--and that can seem to be the case if you focus on the costs involved in procuring new technology. However, what these companies fail to realize is that there are hard costs involved in NOT having an optimized WAN.

For example, think back to our previous example about security: Purchasing a security suite certainly does have some initial and ongoing expenses, but they are expenses that you can build into your budget. Now, imagine the costs associated with your business’ network being down for a day, or with trying to recover from an attack where hackers broke into your network and stole personal customer data.

Thinking about it from this perspective, it’s easy to see that an investment in a vendor that can develop and oversee an optimized WAN is one that will pay dividends far beyond your initial investment.

Selecting the right managed WAN service vendor: Eight questions you must ask
So, you’ve decided to improve your network uptime and security by finding a vendor that can manage your business network services, including your WAN services, in a cost-effective manner. But with so many vendors providing a variety of solutions, it’s often difficult to know where to start. Certainly, the price of the solution will be a factor you will want to consider, but there are other important questions you need to ask of any potential service vendor:

  • 1. Does your platform offer both basic and advanced security, IDPS, web content filtering (WCF), and remote access services? Even if you don’t need all of these services right now, it’s wise to choose a vendor that can provide all of them, so you’ll be able to build upon your existing foundation if/when the need arises.
  • 2. Does your platform provide advanced reporting and analysis? Choose a vendor that provides detailed information on things like specific threats that have been blocked, detailed reports about application priorities and network health, etc. And don’t be afraid to ask them to share a sample report with you!
  • 3. What statistics does your platform provide? If a vendor can’t provide you with detailed statistics on network health, bandwidth utilization by application, VoIP/MOS scores, phone number calling reports, etc., then you may want to keep looking. Having access to this detailed level of information is imperative to being able to make educated decisions about future network purchases.
  • 4. Does your company provide managed optimization services? Some vendors are capable of setting up your WAN connection, but you’ll be better served by a vendor that can get things set up and manage all of the related services, including router setup, security, and overseeing ongoing network performance.
  • 5. Can you give me a demo of your platform? Seeing that platform for yourself is one of the best ways to determine if the vendor’s offerings may be a good fit. .
  • 6. Does your platform provide multiple types of access mechanisms, and what are your international capabilities? Many vendors provide Ethernet or serial access, but the best providers will have both, and will be able to give you specifics on what services they are able to provide outside for your office locations abroad.
  • 7. What are your specific fees—for example, how do you charge for class of service? Considering a vendor that charges a flat rate class of service will help you anticipate and contain costs, avoiding surprisingly large charges at the end of the month.
  • 8. Is your platform’s bandwidth policed or limited? If you’ve ever been shocked by extra data usage charges on your “unlimited data” cell phone plan, you know first-hand the frustration of a vendor promising one thing and delivering another. Ask any potential vendor if they police or limit your bandwidth in any situation, and for any reason—and avoid those that have an asterisk next to their answers.
Asking the right questions today leads to smarter investments tomorrow
If you’ve been struggling with WAN-related issues slowing down your network and making your productivity plummet now is an excellent time to consider your options. If you’re frustrated with the cost and complexity of managing your own WAN, think about exploring outside options, which are often much more cost-effective than you imagined! By asking the right questions up front, and ensuring that you feel confident and comfortable with the answers, you’ll be on your way to creating an optimized WAN that will benefit your business well beyond your initial investment.

Dan Toomey is senior manager for WAN Solutions and Security Services Product Management at XO Communications. Dan has been with XO for more than 11 years. In his current role, he is responsible for the development and ongoing management of XO’s array of Wide Area Networking products and features.

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