The Network Hub

Aug 22 2014   12:18PM GMT

Top 5 WAN services provider list – Global & UK

Robert Sturt Robert Sturt Profile: Robert Sturt

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I am being asked on a fairly regular basis if I’m aware of a top 5 WAN services provider list for global and UK providers. http://telecoms.wiki has created a PDF list which includes two global providers, and three national providers for both MPLS and VPLS. Request your copy here for global or here for UK without being added to marketing lists, all data is kept completely confidential.

Network Union Mindmap

The PDF represents those providers telecoms.wiki have worked with since 2009 which should provide a good start to your project. They have experience of each provider and will continuously add to the list as more are recommended based on real world experience.

Additionally, access our Techtarget WAN providers Mindmap where we distill all of our experience over 15 years including live ongoing opportunities. We outline the wins, risks, failures with updates every single month. A living document with the objective of explaining what the top performing companies are considering and the typical areas which are problematic. In our experience, there is only a small percentage of organisations which procure WAN services with success – I would estimate maybe 10% as an approximate guide. Our insights arrived from a series of projects which we assigned to a regular research activity; we explored enterprise architecture from 2001 to 2009, around eighteen or so firms. Today our research is updated monthly using live BT projects. In the interest of full disclosure, I now run a BT Authorised Business but prior to this position, I assisted global and UK organisations with WAN procurement hence why we are often asked for a WAN service providers list and associated supporting info. The guide is written for all executives which wonder why some firms manage to do well in the field of WAN procurement whilst other suffer major issues and problems.

WAN Service Providers

Now, if you are reading this article, I trust you have an affinity for a fit for purpose design and proposal. And, when I say design and proposal, I mean more than just pricing. With this said, if you are unsure before you move forward with requesting proposals, read on to understand a few key vectors to consider which we hope will support your PDF list of WAN service providers for the UK and Global markets.

When considering the details, there are a number of key questions we should ask because there are so many key areas to be considered but, unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. Essentially, there is no one WAN provider to fit all requirements which is why your organisation is uniquely aligned to certain providers – you just have to find out which one/s. (Easy, right?) 

Let’s be clear. A list is a good thing, a top guide to anything is a starting point to begin considering which global or UK MPLS or VPLS service providers you are potentially engaging. An IT Manager armed with a list will typically follow one of three paths at this early stage.

1. Create a basic requirements list and send out an MPLS or VPLS RFP or spreadsheet. This is probably the most common approach and typically consists of a template, a list of some basic bandwidths in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. Perhaps the biggest risk to organisations is the commodity based decision making process. The replies received from your WAN service providers list will no doubt consist of copy and paste content which will not be specifically related to your needs. The sales process which is started in this way will normally continue without too much focus on meeting your specific goals. In the absence of value, price is all you have left which results in some typical issues and problems we see in the market place.

2. Use a guide (i.e. our Techtarget guide). We  created the step by step service providers procurement guide (mentioned earlier) which is based on years of experience working for and with large telco’s. Our A2 Mindmap is updated on the last Friday of every month and represents the sum of our knowledge as we grow based on real world experience. The actual Mindmap is a companion to our book which was written to help IT managers achieve excellence within the MPLS, VPLS and VLL procurement fields. 

WAN Service Providers

Using a repeatable process such as our Mindmap is an ideal way to align your organisation on the right path to procurement success. The objective is to outline the success and failure with each and every project and distill them down into an easy to consume single A2 document.

3. Use an outside consultant. As with any professional services, it is important to understand whether the consultancy is aligned with your objectives. We know of several organisations here in the UK which operate with dramatically different workflows. One is very focused on price above all else – they request a percentage of the savings which ensures high motivation towards price reduction. Others are more focussed on the value proposition and helping you to understand strengths and weaknesses. We have yet to find a consultancy which attempts to really align business strategy with the capability of providers. There are elements of this approach but nothing which really has a real focus. Clearly, using a consultancy also has an additional commercial impact.

In my opinion and experience, these are typically the main three options.

What is the impact of poor decision making process?

In some cases, mild frustration. In other examples, major business disruption and loss of revenue. One of the major risks with any sales process is the ‘features and benefits’ approach. We were all taught to sell on features and benefits and clearly this method of understanding a feature vs the benefits allows us to understand the impact of our purchase. However, this sales approach doesn’t typically perform a great job of understanding your specific business.

Good WAN services proposals are created using knowledge and experience. In some cases, telecoms products and services are relatively straight forward but in the case of your WAN, careful thought must be given to avoid a poor outcome. There are multiple different areas we cover within our Mindmap guide from users through to cloud based computing and business strategy. The WAN has been an important key aspect to any business but today, the reliance is becoming ever more critical with global working, BYOD (Bring your own device), regulations, customer service, extranet access all impacted by our service provider decision making process. 

Fundamentally, the WAN is about people. Whether we are talking about the end users, extranet clients, customers or partners. The result is the same, the user experience is key. The way in which users interact with the WAN may change on an ongoing basis as the result of business strategy. For example, the acquisition of other companies creates a major impact on your connectivity from the perspective of added load, new applications, new workflows and, of course, new locations. If you believe your organisation may well be looking to acquire a new business, you need to be sure any potential provider has good coverage for locations of interest.  Other common strategy elements include business expansion or downsizing. 

So, the WAN architecture is generally dictated by the specific user needs. Whether you opt for a centralised or a decentralised environment is largely dependent on users which will dictate application flow. In some cases, local applications are more beneficial than reaching applications via the cloud. This is becoming a rare occurrence but the point remains, the interaction with the WAN will dictate the architecture.

Avoiding a silo approach

We find many procurement projects are unsuccessful because business issues and drivers are effectively filtered off using a silo. The ‘silo’ is really the typical approach within IT departments today where the combined effort of IT teams work fine but projects, issues and pain points all exist individually and are not particularly well defined. In most SMB organisations, the Silosilo is less of a problem since the overall business is not particularly complex. As a business increases in size to that of an Enterprise, the impact is significant with many IT silo’s which are not particularly well connected. The key to successful WAN networks from the angle of procurement is to present the technology as an enabler to the business which requires aligning all key areas from applications through to business strategy and much more. Without this kind of process, the WAN is often a bottleneck with even routine activities impacted by a mis-aligned provider.

Let’s look at a few examples. 

Applications

Apps are essentially the very reason WAN services exist. We advise creating thorough documentation of your applications using a hierarchal definition.

High priority: Voice, video

Medium priority: Mission critical apps such as Citrix

Low priority: Internet, email

Understand your applications includes both considering how critical they are to the business but also their specific attributes and usage. Allowing some time to really focus on flow between user and host together with the existing capability of applications to serve the business is critically important. When looking at the existing situation, look at previous outages, issues and performance to provide you with insight into how the capability might be improved. We worked with a client recently where their key applications were considered to be ‘chatty’. This essentially means each packet requires an acknowledgement that delivery has been completed without any packet loss or other issues. In theory, this process sounds sensible but consider that a network with high latency would create slow performance as each acknowledgement would need to travel across the network. The way around this is to consider application performance enhancement which allows the packets to be locally acknowledged. Using Visio to show a per application flow, performance (latency and jitter), downtime and required service levels is a sensible approach.

Diversity and uptime

Leading on from applications is how we maintain network uptime. In general, when designing networks for resiliency, there is a balance between budget and desired design. Consider how downtime for your key applications may impact the business vs the outlay of a full diverse design. The network architecture for diversity is also an area where many procurement projects encounter issues. Another recent example involved an organisation which was advised to use two tail circuit providers for primary and failover as this would ultimately provide the best possible uptime. However, this is never the case because each tail circuit provider does not have access to their counterparts circuit planning. In other words, there may well be multiple points of failure throughout the path to the network. In the UK, wholesale providers such as Open Reach provide specific products designed to avoid any single point of failure. 

Applications and QoS

The feature of QoS (Quality of Service) is to prioritise applications with the benefit resulting in consistent and predictable performance. However, what if the distance between two of your locations is simply to far from a latency perspective which will have a detrimental impact to your application regardless of QoS? In this respect, it is important to not only understand QoS and how this might benefit your applications but also other mitigating factors which surround this feature set.

Conclusion

I hope we have highlighted the importance of aligning your requirements with the capability of your WAN services provider within these few examples. The only sensible method of achieving a good outcome is a well thought out approach which your organisation must dictate when dealing with the service provider OR the sales team from the provider must demonstrate their capability to diagnose your requirements. If you experience selling which is simply based on yet another product feature or benefit, your decision making process will more than likely result in a commodity based selection. 

As a reminder, the Network Union Mindmap offered within this blog post will help to analyse your current situation and then look at the portfolio of products and services offered by telco’s, VNO’s or resellers allowing your organisation to identify the best way forward.  The early development of our material began in 2001 as clients were moving away from Frame Relay and ATM services. With the market expanding usage of WAN services to include remote home working, extranet clients and applications such as voice and video the WAN became more critical and therefore procurement became more important to ensure businesses were well supported.

We have worked hard to embed our diagnostic approach into a single ‘at a glance mindmap’ and would appreciate the feedback if you decide to request a copy.

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