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Managing service providers for multicarrier networks

If you run a global network, chances are you deal with managing service provider relationships. Use these tips to reduce network complexity.

Smaller businesses and those operating within a single country may be able to fulfill their networking goals with a single service provider, but for most businesses in this global era, that's not going to happen. When your network requires multiple providers, it's almost certain to increase complexity. The worst part of a multiprovider network is that the number of issues will be proportional to the number of operators. Nobody wants that kind of explosion of risk, so it's critical to get things under control from the start.

Questions to ask about your multiple carriers

The first question to ask in managing service provider relationships is, Who is your dominant provider? This is likely to be the provider who represents your largest total network cost, but there are other factors that should be considered. First, are most of your users in the service area of a provider other than your cost leader? Second, are your primary data centers in a different provider's service area? A successful multiprovider relationship starts by maximizing your commitment to your dominant provider to maximize your leverage, and if, for example, your data center is networked by one operator and your users primarily by another, you may want to consolidate on a single carrier even at the risk of a higher service cost. You'll save money in support in the long term.

Some enterprises that have tried to act as their own network integrator have paid a year's integration costs on a single network outage.

The second question to ask is, What is the relationship between the other providers and your dominant provider in terms of interworking and interconnect? If your dominant provider has interconnect capabilities with other providers, they can often provide a single point of monitoring and problem determination. If you can negotiate with your provider to do this, it's generally best to build a multiprovider network by interconnecting the providers back to your single dominant provider -- rather than have providers all connect through your own network facilities. Again, it may be worth surrendering a little price advantage for an operator that can get an alternative provider to interconnect with your dominant carrier. 

The third question is, Will your dominant provider act as a network integrator for the entire network? This question includes not only central billing and problem management, but central planning of the network and future changes to network services. This may not seem an inexpensive option, but some enterprises that have tried to act as their own network integrator have paid a year's integration costs on a single network outage.

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Question number four is conditional: If you can't get a positive response from the first three, ask whether it would be better to select a different "dominant provider." In some cases it's better to pick a provider who has strong multicarrier interconnect and strong network integrator credentials as your lead, even if that provider isn't the natural leader who covers most of your sites or gets most of your budget. Be cautious here, though, because dipping too far down the list of your providers (ranked by your spending on each) could cost you crucial leverage in the case of problems.

If your service providers cannot answer your questions favorably, you may have no choice but to be your own managed service provider. Learn how to manage service provider relationships on your own in the next article of this series.

This was last published in November 2012

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