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Choosing VPN provider means wearing several hats

At VPNcon in Alexandria, Va., Richard Ting, director of integration services for VPN extranet provider Aventail, spoke with searchNetworking Site Editor Susan Fogarty and offered his advice on choosing a managed VPN service.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Here at VPNcon Fall 2001, one common topic of conversation has been outsourcing VPNs. As service offerings increase and begin to overlap from one segment of the market to another, choosing a managed service provider (MSP) for your VPN becomes even more confusing. SearchNetworking talked with Richard Ting, director of integration services for Aventail, a VPN extranet provider, and he offered some concrete advice for choosing a managed VPN service.

First, evaluate what you want to get out of your VPN in regard to eight key metrics: technology, operational processes, operational structure, packaging, portal, comprehensiveness, partnerships, additional services and price. "All of these are important considerations," said Ting, "but businesses are going to prioritize them in different ways according to their own situations, goals, and expertise."

Once you've identified your top priorities, you can begin examining the services that are available. Successfully analyzing MSPs "means wearing three hats -- the skeptical engineer, the experienced operations expert, and the informed investor," said Ting.

As the skeptical engineer, you should assess the VPN service as if it were a technology product. "Take a look at what will be required of your company, and what you require of the MSP, and see how these expectations match up," Ting said. Also evaluate the service in terms of the user interface and its look and feel, and make sure that the technology platform and operations environment will coexist and integrate with your current systems.

The next role you'll assume is that of the operations expert. Ting says to evaluate the MSP with an eye toward process, making sure that the company can produce an implementation methodology, and that it makes sense to you. Think about whether the methodology is realistic and takes the complexities of the technology you plan to roll out into account. In addition, find out how the MSP handles problems when they crop up. The company should have a set policy for complaint escalation, ownership, and resolution, Ting said.

It is also important to look at the MSP as if you were a potential investor (which, really, you are). "Make sure they have a sustainable and differentiated technology that they will continue to develop and maintain," Ting said. Speak with customers to find out about their experiences. And don't be afraid to ask about the company's financial history and current standing. "When choosing an MSP, you're really looking for a company that's going to be providing part of your infrastructure," said Ting. "The financial viability of that company is going to be a major factor in your decision."

One final recommendation from Ting: Evaluate the ease of switching to a new provider, in the event that you discover you've made the wrong choice. "Some contracts are written to make it virtually impossible to extract yourself from the MSP," he said. "Ensure that you will be able to terminate and work with another company if you need to."


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