Choosing WAN providers: Key questions to ask

When evaluating carrier services for the WAN, it's imperative to ask some key questions regarding customer service, service-level agreements, global coverage, management and monitoring capabilities, and underlying technologies. Make sure these questions are on your checklist.

There are many options when trying to build a robust WAN to connect a growing number of branch offices. Typically, IT decision-makers settle on a particular type of service for their WAN and then evaluate the differences among their short list of carriers. And even though MPLS, Ethernet, or frame-relay services may look similar from carrier to carrier, there are some key areas that differentiate them -- beyond just pricing.

When evaluating carrier services for the WAN, it's imperative to ask some key questions regarding customer service, service-level agreements, global coverage, management and monitoring capabilities, and underlying technologies. Make sure these questions are on your checklist:

Customer service

Will I have a single point of contact?

What is the escalation procedure for problems that aren't resolved within a specified time frame? Will I receive a list, with mobile and home phone numbers, of the appropriate contacts?

What is the procedure for addressing billing problems?

How quickly will I receive responses to my questions and/or orders for new services?

What is the account team's responsibility for recommending new services or innovative ways of using existing services?

Will we have regular relationship-review meetings to identify trouble areas?

How much expertise does the account team have, and how often do they attend training? Will I have access to both subject-matter experts and the account team?

Which customer-service functions are electronic (i.e., trouble ticketing, order entry, request for credits, etc.) only, which are electronic or in-person/over phone, and which are in-person/over phone only?

What services are covered under your minimum annual revenue commitment (MARC)? Does it include voice, data, mobile, Internet, professional services?

What is your privacy policy? Under what circumstances will my company name and customer information be released to third parties, including law enforcement? At what point in the process will I be notified?

Service-level agreements

Negotiated service-level agreements (SLAs) are a necessity. Are there any SLA metrics that you absolutely will not be willing to negotiate, and if so, which ones?

Do you have guaranteed intervals for order-to-installation, and what are they?

Are the network-performance SLAs based on the overall network performance metrics or on my network performance metrics only?

Do you proactively provide restitution when you do not meet an SLA, or do I need to specifically ask for it?

Are you willing to negotiate an SLA for billing accuracy?

Are network uptime guarantees based on daily or monthly percentages?

Global coverage

In which countries do you provide service, and which services?

In which countries are services provided primarily through third-party networks? In which countries are services provided primarily over your own network?

If your coverage is provided via a third-party network, are SLAs maintained across the network-to-network interface (NNI)? If not, how do you adjust your service commitments? If so, how are they monitored?

In which countries do you offer in-country, native language, native currency support?

Do you provide consolidated bills for an entire global network in a single currency?

Management and monitoring

Do you provide managed services? For which offerings?

Will you manage branch offices? If so, where is the point of demarcation and how flexible is it?

Do you have a management portal? If so, what information can I get from it? How interactive is the portal?

What types of changes can customers make? For example, can I dynamically change bandwidth?

How many classes of service do you provide for MPLS? Do you have plans to provide policy-based prioritization? What else is on the roadmap?

Underlying technology

Which vendor provides the equipment for the service under evaluation?

What is the growth strategy and roadmap for new features? What is the time frame?

Is the carrier involved with relevant standards bodies for the service under evaluation?

Will you provide a visit to the network-operations center to demonstrate how the service is monitored and maintained and how you detect and isolate problems?

What level of security do you provide as part of the service, and what else will you provide for a fee?

About the author: Robin Gareiss is Executive Vice President and Senior Founding Partner for Nemertes Research, where she oversees research projects and direction, conducts strategic seminars, develops cost models, and advises leading enterprises, vendors, and carriers. For the past 17 years, Robin Gareiss has worked closely with hundreds of senior IT executives, analyzing their use of technology and capturing best practices. Robin is a widely recognized expert in voice over IP, convergence, collaboration, carrier services, IP networking, and branch-office technologies.


 

This was first published in May 2007

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