A guide to selling managed WAN services

WAN services offerings provide a revenue opportunity for MSPs and VARs as more companies seek reliable service to branch offices while fighting staff shortages and reduced budgets. In this guide to WAN services for the channel, you'll learn about the drivers for this opportunity; you'll also find out how to offer the right blend of WAN services, how to prove your qualifications, and what sales pitch to use. Finally, drill down into our WAN optimization tutorial to get a fuller understanding of WAN optimization.

  • Introduction
  • Managed branch office network services: Partners find a new path
  • WAN management services for UC: Opportunities for MSPs and VARs
  • WAN optimization tutorial

    WAN services offerings provide a revenue opportunity for MSPs and VARs as more companies seek reliable service to branch offices while fighting staff shortages and reduced budgets. In this guide to WAN services for the channel, you'll learn about the drivers for this opportunity; you'll also find out how to offer the right blend of WAN services, how to prove your qualifications, and what sales pitch to use. Finally, drill down into our WAN optimization tutorial to get a fuller understanding of WAN optimization.

      Offering managed branch office network services

    by Katherine Trost

    Each year, a growing number of companies increase their number of branch locations -- and with that comes the need to extend IT services to these remote offices.

    But a tough economy has created a double-edged sword for these companies. On one hand, limited budgets mean hiring freezes, which makes it difficult to extend IT staff and services to branch offices. On the other hand, with tight finances it is more cost effective to move employees to home offices or existing branch offices in order to reduce real-estate costs or travel expenses.

    This conundrum means that while 62% of organizations increased the number of branch-office locations from 2006-2007, 82% of companies with branch offices are lacking on-site IT expertise

    Enter the managed service provider (MSP), VAR or systems integrator. IT consultants are now moving beyond build-out and into bandwidth and application management, as well as network management, for branch offices and other remote locations. They're doing so in response to growing demand. Sixty-five percent of organizations are now using or evaluating some flavor of managed service at one or more of their branch locations. Those using third-party services extend them to 89% of their locations.

    Where do companies need branch office network services?

    IT consultants can help their customers draft a plan to address build out that will include appropriate management services. That decision about which branches actually need services can depend on a number of factors.

    Nearly half of organizations simply extend managed services to all branches. But for 29% of organizations using managed services, location and available staffing are the determining factors. Typically, they use managed services for remote offices with little or no IT staff on site or nearby. They also identify branches that only need help with selected services, but can't justify a full-time IT employee.

    Other organizations outsourced branch office network services necessary based on the applications in use by business needs. For example, a branch office that operates as a contact center may rely on managed VoIP services to ensure high call quality. Contrary to what many believe, the size of the branch rarely plays a role in this decision.

    Offering the right mix of branch office network services

    Organizations need various types of managed network services for the branch office. Just because customers use MSPs doesn't mean they necessarily want to offload everything to them. In some cases, MSPs handle WAN services while the internal IT staff oversees infrastructure and applications. In other cases, MSP handle troubleshooting and installation, but internal IT addresses ongoing management and monitoring.

    Of organizations using managed services, 82% choose managed router and network support. Nearly 36% need end-user/desktop support. These services include helpdesk, training and software support. Thirty-three percent of companies use IP-telephony management services -- a significant increase from early 2008 when only 22% used managed IP telephony, and an even bigger increase from 2007, when only 14% sought these services. The use of IP telephony managed services is expected to continue increase as more companies deploy the technology and integrate it with other UC applications.

    The right provider for the right service

    Organizations are very thorough in assessing their needs and taking time to find a provider (or multiple providers) that offer the right combination of services. The type of provider they choose depends mostly on the services they require.

    MSPs include carriers, vendors, systems integrators, value-added resellers and traditional outsourcers and the lines often blur between what providers typically offer.

    Carriers have generally focused on network-based services, such as router management, WAN management, and implementation. Systems integrators focus heavily on design and build, whereas outsourcers address network, security, or application management. Vendors and their resellers typically offer assessment, installation, training, break/fix truck rolls and ongoing management. But many providers have built partnerships with others that offer complementary services (e.g. carriers with outsourcers) to offer a wider management portfolio.

    Proving you're qualified to offer branch network services

    Beyond the services solution providers offer, customers consider additional selection criteria when choosing outsourced network management services. They consider whether partners have strong security policies and can meet compliance demands. They also seek partners that support multivendor solutions, and that have the right certifications and training.

    Ultimately, outsourced branch network management is most successful when solution providers take time to assess the needs of their customers, evaluating where they need help, and what they can handle internally. IT consultants can make customers more comfortable with this type of business model by offering referrals from existing customers and peers, and then sitting down to determine a plan.

      Opportunities in WAN management services for UC

    by Katherine Trost

    Supporting unified communications and collaboration applications on the wide-area network (WAN) is a growing challenge, given the fact that nearly 90% of enterprises now have employees who work remotely. Among those companies, 29.8% of employees work apart from their workgroups and/or supervisors.

    The idea of employees quickly meeting around a conference room table to make a decision is gone. So, in order to get work done more efficiently, enterprises extend unified communications (UC) and collaboration applications to employees in their homes and in branch offices, hotels, coffee shops and airports.

    But extending these applications to remote workers means a heavy strain on bandwidth. So VARs and managed service providers must increasingly help enterprises implement bandwidth management and optimization tools to make sure these applications are always dependable, while not bottlenecking the network.

    Drivers of UC in the virtual organization

    The opportunity to provide WAN management services to support UC will only grow in coming years since the number of remote workers is expected to continue increasing.

    One major driver of this growth is increased adoption of green and teleworking policies. Thirty-seven percent of organizations now have teleworking policies, and another 23% have green initiatives in place to promote the use of real-time collaboration applications such as video and Web conferencing, with the goal of reducing business travel.

    Although UC and collaboration tools are considered "nice to have" in many other circumstances, they are critical to the success of these virtual organizations. Only 16% of companies are doing absolutely nothing with UC. More than one-third are in the initial planning stage. Another 28% are in a limited deployment, meaning they are implementing a few applications to a limited number of locations. The remaining companies have already adopted and are implementing a UC strategy.

    These UC tools include non-real-time (asynchronous) applications such as shared document repositories, wikis, blogs, and, of course, email. Real-time (synchronous) applications include audio/video/Web conferencing, instant messaging and, increasingly, social messaging such as short message service (SMS), chat and micro-blogging. The tools have grown in number as have the methods of access to these applications, including desktop, mobile and virtual -- or thin -- clients.

    Bandwidth management for UC poses challenges

    Prior to converged networking, most companies operated separate networks for voice, data and video traffic, and some even ran a separate WAN for each application. Now, most companies have converged an astounding number of applications over a single IP network, making traffic prioritization and bandwidth management critical.

    This presents a challenge to the IT department. Only 18% of branch offices have on-site IT personnel, so virtual employees are managed remotely. Moreover, UC and collaboration applications are complex to deploy, integrate and monitor, and they require high availability and stringent quality of service (QoS). Enterprises often don't have the internal staff resources to manage these applications on the network.

    To meet management requirements, IT managers have a couple of options. The first is to manage the network internally and add optimization tools to make better use of bandwidth. That requires staff to identify and measure the performance of collaborative applications across the network using specialized monitoring tools.

    In addition, they may also have to implement optimization tools in networks where distances are long or bandwidth is dear. Internal staff would also learn the technology that determines metrics for management and then find the time to provide support to the system.

    Unfortunately, shrinking IT staff sizes, lack of internal expertise, and decreasing budgets are making it increasingly difficult to handle bandwidth management internally. That leaves a big opportunity open for managed service partners (MSP) or IT consultants to support some or all aspects of application and/or network management.

    The MSP or VAR play

    Typically in a UC managed-services scenario, companies own the equipment and house it on premises or at a third-party site. They then hire an MSP to manage the infrastructure. Some providers install remote monitoring tools and manage each enterprise site from a central location. Others assign staff members to work on the customer premises or use a combination of the two.

    In either of these scenarios, MSPs and VARs are called on to provide a range of services. In some cases, MSPs handle WAN services while the internal IT staff oversees infrastructure and applications. In other cases, the MSP handles troubleshooting and installation all the way to the desktop, but internal IT addresses ongoing management and monitoring.

    Either way, MSPs are able to build long-term relationships with their customers, charging a monthly subscription fee. Some providers charge a fee per device managed, however.

    For MSPs and VARs, the sales pitch is that enterprise customers can outsource bandwidth management and optimization for UC, freeing up internal staff from day-to-day monitoring tasks and enabling them to focus on more high-value business initiatives. Enterprise customers will also see more predictable spending, potentially coupled with less capital investment and increased system reliability -- all benefits that are especially important during tough economic times.

    Katherine Trost is a research analyst at Nemertes Research, where she focuses primarily on professional services.

      WAN optimization tutorial

    The addition of bandwidth-hogging, high-availability applications to the IP network is requiring many organizations to increase WAN speeds without adding expensive bandwidth. WAN optimization appliances claim to do just that. Value-added resellers (VARs) who know how to offer WAN optimization services can make a hefty profit in this market -- but the WAN optimization market is crowded and competitive, with vendors incorporating a variety of technologies.

    Navigating the market and choosing the right product can be challenging -- and it's only going to become more so. All this points to a prime opportunity for VARs and solution providers who offer WAN optimization services to help customers identify and deploy the right product. Our WAN optimization tutorial is designed to get you up to speed on the benefits of WAN optimization, how it works and how to choose the right appliance for your customer's specific needs.

    Continue reading the WAN optimization tutorial.

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