Corporate WANs left WANting

Mattias Fridström, Chief Evangelist, Telia Carrier reveals the findings of a recent report of corporate WANs and offers advice on making network choices.

Digital technology and the cloud have transformed the way businesses are run and how they connect with employees, suppliers, partners, and customers—across sites and geographies. However, the corporate WAN is not yet the best it could, and should, be. This is not just because WAN technology is still evolving, but also because the WAN ecosystem hasn’t been fully understood: knowledge gaps about the Internet and its various tiers have made decision-making difficult.

At Telia Carrier, we decided to look into this whole issue in a little more detail and commissioned our “Enterprise network insights 2020: transforming the corporate WAN” research report that surveyed over 400 C-Level IT leaders in large enterprises in four of the world’s largest markets, to understand the corporate WAN experience and decision making process. To underline just how important these decisions are, 90% of the survey’s respondents confirmed that their enterprises rely on the public Internet for some or all of their wide area network services, and 48% stated the impact of a corporate WAN outage exceeding 24 hours would be catastrophic.

Today’s Enterprise: connected but needing more

Enterprises are not getting the best from their corporate WANs and there are a number of reasons for this that come through in the research. One of the most telling is that people may not be making the right choices – for their circumstances – because of a knowledge gap on how WANs work across the public internet. Only half of UK respondents (49%) rated their understanding of how the Internet backbone works as very good or excellent, but almost two-thirds globally think of public Internet connectivity as a commodity that doesn’t vary much between suppliers.

Whilst that admission of a lack of understanding, will undoubtedly lead to poor decision making and missed opportunity, it is not all about performance, when considering whether you are getting the best from a provider. Asked to report on their biggest issues with their service provider security was the biggest pain point (55%), followed by service flexibility (43%), supplier performance (36%) and network congestion (35%).

Only 51% rate their current suppliers as ‘great’ for customer experience, with 45% saying failure to provide fast solutions for simple problems is their biggest issue, and 27% that the struggle to find information and support bothers them most.

Tomorrow’s Supplier: It’s not just about speed

The research illustrates that the network providers of the future have to put the needs of the customer at the centre of everything they do. Bandwidth (40%), service flexibility (36%) and customer support (29%) are the top three enterprise priorities when deciding on a local network partner or ISP to connect to their preferred cloud-service providers.

Sustainability is also a key criterion when shortlisting suppliers or choosing between candidates. In fact, more than a third of all respondents (38%) confirmed that they now only shortlist suppliers with a strong commitment to sustainability. Of those who don’t include sustainability in their initial selection criteria, 45% in the UK say it helps them choose between the final candidates. Only a fifth say they choose suppliers solely on the basis of price and performance.

The survey also found that demand for new tools and technologies to improve workflows and increase transparency is strong. For example, 90% would like their network partners to adopt more

machine-to-machine workflows and automation to enhance their services, and 68% say they already use APIs to achieve real-time visibility of their network performance or control of their network infrastructure.

The network decisions of the future

In today’s world, enterprises need the bandwidth scalability and network footprint to adapt to changes in traffic volumes as they grow and expand across diverse geographies, bandwidth flexibility during spikes in traffic, optimal levels of data security throughout the ecosystem of providers, low latency that minimises lag and delay, and a combination of self-provisioning tools and personalised, human-touch service and support. That is a lot of things to try and get right!

For too many, however, this is a WAN ideal that is out of reach.

The problem stems partly from a tendency to think of the public Internet as a commodity that doesn’t vary significantly in quality. This misconception means enterprises are not always making informed decisions about their network development strategies and are not always choosing the right partners and providers for them.

It is absolutely possible to bridge the gap between the WAN ideal and WAN reality. But to do so it is important to accept that public Internet connectivity is not always the same. When making network choices, it is a good idea to assess every supplier against the following key areas:

1. Scalability – can they to adapt to changes in traffic volume as your business becomes more data-driven and grows or expand to new territories?

2. Flexibility — do they possess the technical ability to re-route traffic dynamically and offer sufficient bandwidth on alternative paths to limit congestion and provide continuity of service in the event of problems?

3. Reliability and responsiveness — can they resolve issues quickly and effectively and are genuinely concerned with each customer and their specific needs?

4. Security — is it able to offer the right blend of public Internet and private connections and the kinds of solutions that really keep business-critical traffic safe?

5. At the cutting edge — are they a leader in fibre optics, APIS, SD-WAN and other emerging technologies, aligned with best-in-class IT systems, and free from outdated legacy infrastructure?

6. Committed to sustainability — do they run the kind of infrastructure and systems, for example, energy-efficient data centres, that reduce carbon emissions and, potentially, total cost of ownership?

7. High-tech, high-touch — offering tomorrow’s technologies and tools together with more traditional and personalised account management?

Building a scorecard for each supplier around each of these areas can help make more informed choices that will be aligned with your connectivity goals. For organisations that really want to create the networks that will transform their businesses, whilst controlling costs and reducing their carbon footprint, it will be essential to review their network strategies for the next three to five years. Network providers can be strategic partners in the growth and development of enterprises — the trick is choosing one that is aligned with your enterprises’ needs.

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