Choosing an internet service provider seems straightforward. For a business, there are some basic criteria: price, speed, types of service level agreements and variety of networks such as cable, T1, and MPLS.
But what are some criteria that are not so obvious? There are some other factors that organizations should consider in order to ensure they choose the right ISP to support business requirements.
Points of presence and network partners
Consider the geographic coverage of the internet service provider. This is especially important for wide-area networks. For example, you may have a network service from a major or regional provider for your existing offices, and the company wants to expand its wide area network. You need to determine if the current service providers reach these new remote locations.
Choosing your current provider, provided it has the remote footprint, is convenient since it simplifies contracts and keeps operational procedures similar. However, behind the scenes, some service providers may not use their own network at the locations you care about. Instead, they may rely on partners to fill in areas that lack their own coverage.
As long as the service-level agreements in those locations are consistent with your expectations, there is little to worry about. But it’s worth investigating in case there are subtle differences, such as how well your ISP's remote partners are connected to its primary network, which impacts the number of network hops and latency. This ultimately affects the performance of the workloads and access to applications. Ask your service provider which networks they really use.
Edge & co-location services
Internet service providers often add additional services, such as edge data centers. These are co-location data centers hosted by ISPs with connectivity to cloud providers and other service providers. This matters to enterprises since reliability and low latency will improve workloads running in well-connected data centers. While this issue does not seem directly related to providing a network service, it is important since networks, workloads, and applications increasingly rely on each other, and network pros are the first to hear complaints if application performance is slowed.
Imagine an IoT workload: Local devices first collect data and send it to apps running in an edge data center. After the workload collects data from the edge locations, it processes the data and then uploads it to a cloud-based application for further processing. Having a service provider that offers these services along with good network connectivity will provide a well-rounded solution with fewer headaches or the toil of “do-it-yourself” management of separate networks and data centers.
Security need not be independently considered from the network services. Some security features are integrated into the network, while others may be add-on services.
Within the network itself, service providers may filter out forged packets or offer Distributed Denial of Service protection. These are fundamental to keep the network trustworthy and reliable.
Add-on services may include items such as managed firewalls. They may be in the cloud, offered by the service provider, or on-site as part of a managed contract. These services augment or interoperate with an enterprise’s own security system to provide a complete solution.
There are privacy issues too. Does the network service provider track and sell data, or does it respect your right to keep your data content and metadata private? While important data ought to be encrypted as they travel over any network, we still can't ignore privacy issues such as which sites are visited.
Overall, network service providers should not be treated solely as suppliers of a “dumb” data pipe. While businesses can’t ignore service basics, it will pay off to look at geographic coverage and additional services layered on top of the network, such as well-connected data center hosting or security.