SmartAdvice: Upgrading To A Global Network

This SmartAdvice column from The Advisory Council looks at best practices for determining your need for an MPLS-based network, and more on program-management offices. (Originally published in Optimize)

October 3, 2005

5 Min Read
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SmartAdvice is a weekly column from The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory-service firm. It answers questions of core interest to IT executives, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected].

Question A: What is MPLS, and should we be looking at implementing a global "MPLS-based" network to replace our current telecommunications network?

Our advice: There is no question that MultiProtocol Label Switching technology represents the future of voice/data telecom networks. With uncharacteristically little fanfare, many global telecom carriers in the past year or two have been quietly converting their networks to support this emerging standards-based technology. For larger companies looking for a data communications technology that offers relatively secure, highly efficient, and flexible networks on a global scale, the carriers' MPLS service offerings are well worth considering, but be aware that service levels and coverage will remain spotty until carriers complete the required equipment upgrades in their networks.

MPLS as an Internet Engineering Task Force standard has been around since the late 1990s. It grew out of several technologies, including Cisco's Tag Switching, IBM's Aggregate Route-Based IP Switching, and Toshiba's Cell-Switched Router, which were all designed to move network packets through a network fabric more efficiently, by applying OSI level 2 speed to level 3 flexibility. Networking that is by its very nature both virtual and secure means that the additional packet encryption overhead, created to support the more commonly available IP-level virtual private networks, is practically eliminated.

From the enterprise perspective, consider replacing an aging frame-relay network with MPLS service, because it offers service that is more flexible and efficient. The companies that will benefit most from MPLS are businesses with global reach and complex, changing networking requirements. If you need video streaming capabilities, voice-over-IP, and large volumes of secure intranetwork traffic, the case for MPLS is even more compelling. Because the infrastructure costs of delivering MPLS traffic are relatively fixed, the overall connectivity costs remain about the same as those of more conventional data communication services.
On the downside, MPLS is not quite a mature technology. For many carriers, the network coverage is spotty, with each carrier instead concentrating on features as it upgrades its networks. If your networking needs happen to match a given carrier's features and availability, you are in luck; otherwise, you will be stuck with less network flexibility and expensive backhaul circuits to offices that are not near network connections that support MPLS.

For a company that can take advantage of the features, MPLS is clearly the future of telecommunications. For the rest of us, let the carriers smooth out the spotty coverage and wide variations in feature sets before committing. Given that several carriers are replacing their aging gear with MPLS-based equipment, it is likely that within a few years, you will be on an MPLS network without even knowing it.—Beth Cohen

Related Links:

WAN Services: New WAN Order
MPLS Resource Center
Aggregation Aggravation

Beth Cohen, TAC thought leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from user and vendor perspectives.

Question B: Several weeks ago, you wrote about when a project management office makes business sense. What is the appropriate design for a PMO?
Our advice: PMOs are entrenched in the telecom, aerospace, and defense industries, where multimillion-dollar projects have long been the norm, but the concept is becoming popular in other sectors too, as the size and importance of IT projects increase. Ideally, the PMO is responsible for developing and maintaining project management best practices, standardizing templates for critical project management deliverables (charters, work breakdown structures, change control processes), and coordinating projects throughout the company or division. Although the PMO normally functions as a central office, serving as the coordinator of the various project portfolios throughout the organization, it can either be organized as a centralized function serving the entire organization or be integrated into each business unit. The most appropriate design will depend on particular industry and organizational factors.

In most enterprises, the IT group is either organized at the corporate level as an independent horizontal department that supports IT initiatives across all business units or is tightly aligned with each individual business unit, interacting with other IT groups only as needed. In larger organizations, the second model generally includes an enterprise-level IT governance or operational audit group that verifies that projects in one division do not negatively affect the rest of the company.

If information technology is your core/strategic business or your organization has an independent IT department, the PMO can be thought of as just another functional group within the IT division structure. You can have the PMO actually provide project management resources to individual projects or have it act as a clearinghouse for support and best practices. If project management talent is scarce in the rest of the organization, pooling the resources in a centralized, coordinated department makes sense. If the company culture or business model encourages project management skills throughout the organization, the PMO will be more effective as a clearinghouse.

If your organization has multiple IT departments aligned with individual business units, the PMO should be under the IT governance group, to ensure uniform IT best practices. Many business units choose to assign project managers from within the line of business, preferring someone they feel knows their business and technical needs in ways no "outsider" could. If this is the case, the PMO can supply guidance, support, and best practices to the individual project managers.

Because of the specialized nature of IT projects, it is often best to have a separate centralized IT PMO to help manage the entire technology project portfolio across the organization, not merged into any other organizational PMOs. An independent IT PMO verifies that technology best practices are disseminated properly throughout the organization, creates IT-specific templates, and manages the IT project portfolio on an integrated level rather than as individual projects. Overseeing IT projects at this level ensures that all projects meet strategic and core business goals without negatively affecting existing technology architecture and solutions.—Sue Rae Rosenfeld
Related Links:

Project Management Knowledge Base
Gantthead Project Management Central

Sue-Rae Rosenfeld, TAC expert, has more than 20 years experience as an IT project manager and business analyst, primarily in the financial industry. She also trains IT professionals in project management fundamentals.

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