Whether you currently have a wide area data network in place or your organization is exploring your options for new connectivity, there are a number of elements that should be considered. Each of these components can ensure that your new endeavor will meet your objectives both short and long term.
Bandwidth – This is generally the component that most directly relates to the overall network cost. But, too little bandwidth and your remote users will suffer. Too much capacity and you are paying for services that are not being utilized. It is beneficial to determine the amount of traffic that will be traversing across these facilities including voice, data and Internet applications. A valuable source to help address this is your application and local area network vendors.
Quality of Service – When looking to utilize bandwidth for multiple purposes such as voice and data, it is vital that critical applications have a priority. Otherwise, a large file transfer could impact voice quality. There are two elements to QoS. First, you must ensure that each application has enough prioritized bandwidth in relation to the entire pipe. And, you must confirm that each application is assigned to the most correct queue.
Access Method – In the past, organizations would normally use T-1 or multiple T-1s at each location to provide bandwidth to the network. Each T1 provides 1.5 Mbps of available bandwidth. Over the last few years, we have found that fiber access has become more cost effective. Not only can this access method provide greater throughput, but provides greater flexibility should additional bandwidth be required in the future.
Managed Services – Carriers generally provide managed router solutions with their WAN solutions. These services do increase the monthly cost slightly, but eliminate the additional costs of equipment maintenance and support. Customers have a single point of contact for all communications outside their respective site locations.
Shared Access – When installing new access facilities, especially fiber, most carriers have bundled services that can incorporate data, voice and/or Internet. By sharing the access facility for more purposes, customers can often reduce monthly costs.
Contractual Obligations – We all know that the only thing consistent in business is change. It is important to understand your contractual obligations up front, as well with any given change. Some carriers require new term start dates for the entire network while others only contract the changed or added node to a new term length creating a leapfrog effect. Some carriers do allow you to make changes to your network without extending the term length. Know your contract obligations and liabilities.
Cloud Services – Of course this is a topic of its own, but it is important to ask the questions. If you are looking to add cloud services, carriers have relationships with third party cloud service providers that may be of value.
It is likely that the decisions you make today regarding your wide area network will need to support you for at least three years. Carriers will always take your money for future upgrade requirements, but the numerous carrier solutions, network types and specific WAN elements can either vault your organization to the next level or be the anchor that holds you back.