Can't Get Much Satisfaction
One bit of bad news garnered from our respondents is that the median percentage of the typical IT budget spent on WAN services hasn't decreased--it's still in the 11% to 15% range, as in our 2010 survey. However, based on conversations with respondents, it's clear that we're getting a bit more for our money as some services decrease in price, so things could be worse. Still, for the majority of respondents, WAN services take a big bite: for 52%, that's more than 10% of the operational budget. And while just 35% expect to increase the amount they spend on the WAN in the next two years, 69% expect demand for WAN bandwidth to increase.
Are we at least happy with the service we're getting for all that money?
At the technical level, engineers are often critical of their service providers and can riff for quite a while about poor support, help desk cases that never get answered, and offshore technical support that doesn't have the adequate skills. Still, 81% of respondents are very (33%) or somewhat (48%) satisfied with their WAN service. The most commonly cited reasons for dissatisfaction: cost, unreliability, and providers being slow provisioning new services.
However, carriers shouldn't celebrate just yet. We asked respondents to rank their satisfaction in nine areas on a scale of 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied); a 3 translates to "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied." Since the average value was less than 4 in every single area, we can say that, overall, respondents are in the dreaded customer service "zone of indifference" and feel no loyalty to their carrier partners. How much churn providers will see is largely a function of the WAN options in a given area.
For CIOs looking to chart a WAN strategy and reduce the budget hit, there are a few steps to take:
>> Audit your invoices: A typical service provider has many divisions, dozens of teams, and hundreds of products. Billing errors are surprisingly common and often involve large sums. We cover some typical errors in our full report, at informationweek.com/reports/ 2012wan.
>> Audit your services: Many WANs have grown ad hoc over a number of years, even as applications and user profiles changed and services were added and deleted. Check your network monitoring system for visibility into circuit capacity and performance to decide if downgrades are possible in some areas.
>> Find alternatives to local loop: Service providers are constantly upgrading their networks and may have deployed new equipment into your local exchanges. But the only sure way to locate those new services is to repeatedly request them from your provider account manager.
>> Consider WAN acceleration: Although the technology is complex to use and expensive to buy, it's common to compress your WAN traffic between two and four times using these devices. This lowers costs by delaying WAN upgrades while improving performance. However, plan on a maximum three-year ROI for acceleration.
The pace of change in service provider technology is painfully slow. Yes, the carriers face difficult technical and operational challenges. But businesses also have faced significant changes in the past few years, and we've adapted. Continue to hold your service providers to account, and demand better, faster WAN services. Maybe then the 44% of respondents who told us that the biggest factor preventing WAN upgrades is that the service is still too expensive will feel better about spending that cash.
Greg Ferro is a consulting network architect and senior engineer/designer. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.