Tips for getting the most out of your WAN

Companies frequently ask what they can do to get the best bang for the WAN buck. Here are a few recommendations:

Centralise wireline and wireless telecommunications planning and management functions. Costs can only be controlled when people are assigned the responsibility.

Some companies consider the WAN to be such a small item that it is no one's job, or it is one of many tasks assigned to an overworked data technician or network administrator. These companies are in for an unpleasant surprise.

Establish application development design guidelines to factor in network utilisation. Unfortunately, developers often assume bandwidth is plentiful and cheap. They haven't paid the bill.

Review current network architectures to ensure efficient site-to-site connectivity.

Often, companies add network resources in an ad hoc fashion. Periodically, it makes sense to step back and assess how the entire infrastructure operates.

Is it really necessary for certain applications or departments to have their own access and WAN infrastructure apart from the larger organisation? Sometimes, yes, but more often it's a relic of past political skirmishes. To these organisations I have a simple piece of advice: get over it.

Look at traffic patterns. From a network perspective, is it always most cost-effective to run all WAN traffic through a hub-and-spoke arrangement?

Consider switching out WAN services: When price/performance meets your requirements, move from private line or frame relay to ATM or IP VPNs. If your organisation has two or more sites in a single large metropolitan area, consider metropolitan-area Ethernet networks.

Bandwidth need not always be added to support new applications that make extensive use of the WAN. Consider employing local enterprise caching capabilities, load balancing and bandwidth managers/traffic shapers.

Reduce use of or eliminate applications that have marginal value to the business, and establish and enforce corporate policies on the personal use of company calling cards, cellular phones and corporate Internet accounts. Some studies estimate that personal use of the Internet at work may account for as much as 30% of traffic.

Create requests for proposals and entertain multiple bidders when approaching the expiration point on existing WAN contracts. Renegotiate prices, terms and conditions on existing contracts annually.

Consider leasing, not purchasing, expensive network equipment, gear that requires frequent upgrades, or equipment that employs proprietary vendor capabilities - for example, most cable and DSL modems.

Upgrade antiquated communications hardware and software - underpowered communications boards and inefficient router code can gobble up bandwidth.

Many customers are surprised to find such equipment still operates in their networks.

Examine the value of outsourcing particular WAN functions, typically those that have not been well serviced in-house. For instance, it often makes sense to outsource global remote access requirements. But since it is not a panacea, outsource on a selective basis.

Finally, get some perspective and look at the needs of the entire organisation. Sometimes network costs have to increase for the costs of IT, sales or customer service to drop.

Pierce is a research fellow at Giga Information Group. She can be reached at lpierce@gigaweb.com.

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