By Kirk O’Connor – Sr. Product Manager- Managed Services – Visual Network Systems
Like everyone else in the IT industry, I’ve been thinking, reading, and talking about the Cloud and all the hype that surrounds it. There are some interesting articles, speakers and research that are available with many different perspectives, like:

  • The cloud is just a new way to purchase solutions.
  • The cloud is the future for all applications.
  • The cloud can host anything.
  • Private Cloud, Public Cloud, Hybrid Cloud, etc.

Despite all the outrageous claims I’ve seen, I’ve come to the conclusion that without the NETWORK, the Cloud is nothing. Bear with me as I explain my rational.

The scenario in the United States and most of the world plays out something like this:

The enterprise CIO/CTO and the company create any of the following IT initiatives that will be initiated in the next three years or are already in place: (without hiring new staff!)

  • Data center consolidation project, meaning reduce the number of data centers that the enterprise own, which can lead to subscribing to web-based services like SalesForce and others, i.e. outsourcing the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
  • Virtualize as many applications as possible to leverage the hardware servers we have in place already, which reduces the number of servers and power consumption.
  •  Roll out VOIP, as support expires for our old TDM for all our internal employees.
  • Leverage Video conferencing to reduce travel.
  • Support wireless access at each remote branch, which utilizes the WAN circuit for surfing the Internet on all the new Bring Your Own Devices (BYODs), IPAD, IPHONE, DROID, Nexus, etc.
  • Keep everything secure.
  • Measure everything.

In the meantime, sometime during the next three years for enterprise WAN Managers (typically with a new CIO) and with remote branches ranging in size from 20-300 locations or more; the process to renegotiate their Wide Area Network (WAN) network with an Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) network begins. Ahh…The dance with the service provider begins.

Let me make this point of conflict particularly clear.

The enterprise customer with 10s or 100s of remote locations has to support the above IT initiatives on the bandwidth that is negotiated with a service provider for the NEXT THREE YEARS! And the main goal of the RFP is to reduce the circuit costs on the WAN MPLS contract at every location while increasing the bandwidth speed at every location….Hmmm….Makes me wonder.

If I was a sales representative for a service provider, I would not allow an RFP bid to be placed without real time application and network visibility on the network. This would be a purely selfish part of the sales representative (me) in order to maintain his/her (my) own personal life on a Friday night. I mean, who really wants to be on a call Friday evening, listening to two technical people talk about Class of Service (CoS) validations in order to validate that the VOIP IP addresses are properly allocated to the Real Time CoS offered by the service provider. (Did I really just write that?) Only to find out it was and that the issue must be in the LAN or somewhere in the VOIP system.

As I see it, the enterprise customer via the CIO and the WAN manager is missing an opportunity with their managed service provider by only concentrating on the cost of the circuit while increasing our bandwidth, and not asking for the following features as part of their WAN RFP.

Every enterprise WAN RFP should have verbiage that includes a customer facing web portal view hosted by the service provider into their network showing:

  • Accountability: Provide a clear demarcation point between the enterprise and the service provider that includes real time visibility on the last mile to each branch office and Service Level Agreements (SLA) per Class of Service from site to site.
  • Network and Application Performance: Real time and historical bandwidth analysis to include bursting, auto application detection, and Class of Service validation.
  • Transparency: A collaborative customer-facing portal that allows both the enterprise and the service provider technical support team to work together to isolate whether the problem is a network, application, or VOIP issue while breaking down walls between enterprise IT teams and reducing the never ending finger-pointing.

It sounds like nirvana that a service provider could offer such a tool for their enterprise customers. The reality is that it is available today, but for a cost. That is why the fun starts with writing the RFP with the requirements above at the very beginning and guiding the service provider sales representative to the solution. How else is the cloud going to work without network application visibility and all the enterprise IT initiatives over the next three years.

The beauty of combining the network MPLS contract with a network application performance tool is that the enterprise can remove the capital costs of maintaining and managing their own network and application monitoring tool, while shifting the costs to a known operational cost as a monthly recurring cost. Accountants and the finance department love that!

This WAN RFP strategy allows the enterprise IT staff to do more with less (like moving to the cloud) while allowing the WAN manager to concentrate on the strategic corporate IT initiatives and less on troubleshooting No Trouble Found (NTF) with their service provider and creates a more strategic alliance between the service provider and the customer.

I would be interested in seeing your comments on successful network application monitoring tools offered by your service providers that you have implemented.

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