Choosing a managed services provider

* Don’t just go for the low-hanging fruit, says Forrester Research analyst Robert Whiteley

When evaluating managed WAN services, it’s important to consider more than just the core WAN optimization technologies such as QoS and traffic management, caching, protocol optimization and compression, according to Robert Whiteley, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

Enterprises also need tools for centralizing management and configuration policies; distributing performance controls; and providing visibility into key application conditions from the end-user perspective. WAN optimization should be just one part of a broad application delivery solution, Whitely said in a recent Webcast organized by Ipanema Technologies. (See this week’s earlier newsletter for more details.)

Today’s service offerings are built primarily around basic outsourcing of WAN optimization appliances, deployed on a customer’s premises but provided and maintained by systems integrators and boutique firms, Whiteley said. But that’s set to change as telcos and virtual network operators start delivering truly managed application-savvy optimization services.

“The portfolio is going to expand,” Whiteley said. “It’s going to include not only those premise-based solutions but also the providers will deploy a lot of the optimization, visibility and control features directly from their own networks. This is going to take extremely application-savvy providers to do so.”

Today such services exist in Europe, in particular, where providers such as Orange Business Services, BT and Vanco have gotten a head start delivering network-focused offerings that offer features such as application-oriented service-level agreements (SLA), Whiteley said. “A lot of the European providers have been much more aggressive and forward thinking about how to create these application-level SLAs.”

When it comes to choosing an enterprise-oriented service, Whiteley cautions IT buyers to think beyond the appliance and to focus on which managed services can alleviate operational burdens; which provide appropriate application control and visibility; and which are built around application priorities as opposed to traffic-oriented metrics.

“Application SLAs are going to be a lot more meaningful than traffic SLAs,” Whiteley said. “Approach the company and say, ‘what can you do for my particular applications?’”

In addition, be sure to select a provider that can offer a full portfolio of services beyond basic caching and compression. “If they are just a transport provider, and all they have are data services, they’re probably not going to be very good at managed WAN optimization services,” Whiteley said.

Focus on tier-one providers with a global footprint, he added. “As this market transitions to a more network-based technology, you’re going to want to make sure they have the global footprint to scale with you and extend the acceleration and all the other features out to you.”

The ability to optimize the WAN from “within the cloud,” also is critical, Whiteley said. “Have a good conversation about what’s available within the cloud. What can be delivered from within the network vs. on premise? Look specifically to see how that differs over time to make sure that you’re reducing the cost and the burden and you’re taking advantage of these future-looking WAN optimization services.”

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