How Do You Choose Which WAN Vendors To Talk To?

If you’re thinking of updating your WAN I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is a wide range of new functionality being introduced into the market that can form the basis for a new generation of enterprise WANs. The bad news is that without an effective strategy for analyzing vendor offerings you could quickly develop a very bad case of analysis paralysis. So, what’s a network organization to do? Or, more precisely, how does a network organization choose which vendor offerings to evaluate?

If you are talking to vendors about any new products or services, you need to allocate time and resources both for the analysis and for the overhead of the associated vendor management. One example of that overhead is that if you interact with a vendor about their WAN solutions and you decide to not use their solution, that vendor is likely to expect feedback as to why you made that choice.

The level of expectation increases dramatically if you move from having a vendor come in and give a presentation on their WAN strategy and roadmap, to where the vendor responds to an RFI or an RFP. In the former case, the vendor will most likely be satisfied with some high level verbal feedback about what you didn’t like about their solution. In the latter case, they are likely to want detailed, documented feedback on the deficiencies of their proposal. Not only will they want that feedback, you need to be prepared for the possibility that they may contest it.

The first time I was involved in a contested RFP process occurred decades ago when I was an engineering manager for NYNEX. The project team had distributed an RFP for data networking equipment and we had reduced the number of vendors down to just two – one of which had their headquarters in Massachusetts and the other in Europe. We choose the European-based company and shortly after we told both vendors, my management got a call from Tip O’Neill’s office. At the time O’Neill was the speaker of the US House of Representatives and the person who called said that O’Neill wanted an explanation for why a Massachusetts-based utility** would reject a Massachusetts-based company to order to do business with a European-based company.

We were able to fend off the intervention from O’Neill’s office because, in preparing to make a recommendation to our management, we had taken the time to perform and document a thorough analysis of the two solutions. While this type of intervention is somewhat rare, it does still occur. One very recent example of that is that in March 2015 the US Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) cancelled a $1.6 billion dollar contract with VMware due to complaints about the lack of a competitive bidding process.

The total amount of work that is associated with analyzing alternative solutions for evolving your WAN is just one reason why you need to choose potential vendors carefully. A reasonable strategy is:

  • Enter into a high level conversation with what you determine to be a feasible set of vendors. If the content of those conversations impresses you,
  • Do a deeper analysis with a short list of vendors who you believe can best meet your needs.

This approach balances off the desire to do a broad analysis of emerging solutions with the need to conserve precious IT resources. The description of this approach, however, does beg an important question: How do you choose a feasible set of vendors?

One technique that can help network organizations choose a feasible set of vendors with minimum overhead is to get a deep understanding of vendors’ WAN strategies without having to talk to the vendor. To facilitate that technique, I am in the process of writing an e-book on the topic of WAN architecture and design. This e-book describes a hypothetical company, referred to as NeedToChange, which has a traditional approach to WAN design. It then presents detailed alternative scenarios, directly from the e-book’s 6 sponsors, that describe how NeedToChange should evolve its WAN. This e-book, which will be available at no cost, will provide deep insight into alternative WAN migration paths also will also include a summary of the key components of the emerging approaches to WAN design.

I expect to publish the e-book at the end of May and I will include in a future blog information about how you can download it. I believe this e-book will go a long way towards helping you decide which vendors to talk to about next generation WAN solutions.

**NYNEX was not a Massachusetts-based company. It was, however, created by bringing together two companies: New York Telephone (NYT) and New England Telephone (NET). NET was a Massachusetts-based company.