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In the third part of this three-part series, Robert Sturt discusses the steps enterprises need to take when assessing...
a global Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) procurement strategy. Part One examined the importance of devising a strong business case before talking to prospective providers. This installment extends the topics covered in Part Two, which examined the specific capabilities an MPLS vendor should be able to provide. For additional help, see this companion step-by-step guide.
When considering service-level agreements (SLAs) and providers in general, covenants will provide time frames that cover the delivery of circuits and other milestones from the perspective of the order process. Careful consideration of each delivery element will determine how the SLA is constructed, which will help you understand whether the service level will have real benefits. Let's discuss some of the key milestones for MPLS migration and delivery:
Pre-sales: Collecting your order information is one of the most critical components. The documentation should be thorough and clear. (The MPLS network Mindmap will discuss some of these areas in more detail.) At a high level, we are talking about applications, IP addressing, reachable networks, routing and other components. Global IT infrastructures often contain multiple application types per region; we'll discuss those in future articles.
Order validation: The initial part of the ordering process is crucial and is often a source of frustration for clients. The lead time for circuits is often lengthy, with service activation taking up to 90 working days in some instances. It therefore makes sense that an IT manager would want to see the clock ticking as soon as possible. Validation, however, is a time-consuming process. First, the orders need to be loaded onto the provider's systems, which often takes a few working days. Next, orders are submitted to various departments that must provide further validation. Once authorized, they are released to tail circuit providers, which again requires some form of due diligence. Once complete, the tail provider will arrange site surveys. The time taken to complete surveys will vary, depending on which global tail circuit provider will be used.
Site surveys: The site survey process may also be protracted, depending on the discoveries made during the actual visit. For example, the site may require a new fiber installation, which will affect the overall lead time. In some circumstances, multiple site surveys will be needed to further understand the work required, which again eats into lead times. Not every installation faces these obstacles; there have been countless circuits provisioned without undue delay, but it's important to be prepared.
Resilient orders: Providers often treat both the primary and failover circuit as a single order, and the delivery and separation required for two circuits creates complexity. This, in turn, affects delivery times because the delay of one of the orders will impact the other. This said, there are occasions where the tail circuit provider will split orders, but this type of special treatment must be requested and confirmed.
Migration: How your existing sites will move to the new provider should be discussed in-depth. The majority of global organizations will move through a phased approach where thorough testing of the new MPLS circuit could be completed over a period of time. To complete testing over days or weeks, dual running of both networks will be required. The other option is to produce a test that takes place over a much shorter period of time. If, for any reason, the test plan fails, the organization would simply re-instate the previous provider's circuit. The "big bang" approach, where one network is turned off while the new one is activated, does occur, but I don't recommend this strategy -- for obvious reasons. In short, dual running should be kept to a minimum in order to avoid extra costs, but each individual business will have different priorities in this respect.
Changes: Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of working with global MPLS network service providers (some of them at any rate) is adds, moves and changes. I have witnessed even the simplest change take over a month to complete due to protracted ordering processes. Understanding the workflows used by your prospective service provider -- and what kinds of changes it may allow users to make through a Web portal -- are important considerations. Without this type of functionality and flexibility, your provider may become a bottleneck to projects and initiatives.
Support: Global MPLS network projects require multiple network operations centers (NOCs), each with multi-linguistic capabilities. When considering first-line support, understand each service provider's overall capability per region.
Documentation: Poor documentation, incorrect references, and out-of-date bandwidth and technical data all contribute to contract issues. Service providers are becoming better at providing documentation -- again, through the use of automated portals. Correctly engineered, the portals should provide a window into the provider's infrastructure, including up-to-date references and support detail, including current bandwidths and even quality-of-service data. Whether or not this type of portal is available, the provider should provide a base level of documentation with a specific level of detail.
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