Once you've received responses to your RFP, plan to roll up your sleeves and dig into the details. You'll want to prune down the responses to a "short list" of two to three carriers who can address your requirements, and work with them to craft agreements that meet your technical, financial and operational goals. Be sure to take into consideration the fact that use will change as bandwidth becomes available and that it may affect contract terms and conditions, particularly minimum annual revenue commitments. Eschew mini-MARCs (commitments to purchase particular amounts of particular types of service, such as voice) in favor of an overall combined MARC.
Plan to focus on the following:
-- Mapping your application requirements to the appropriate class of service. The carrier's techs won't necessarily understand that your ERP app is mission-critical and needs real-time performance -- so you'll need to work with them to define and price a network that offers the appropriate services to your current and planned applications.
-- Contractual support for your go-forward strategy. If you're planning to migrate to VoIP , you'll want to be sure your contract doesn't penalize you for doing so. Specifically, if you need to increase bandwidth to accommodate voice and video traffic, make sure your access circuits can handle the load, and that your contract doesn't include clauses that make increases prohibitively expensive.
-- Capacity planning and expansion. Nail down the terms and conditions under which the carriers will expand your network, either by adding new sites or by growing the bandwidth to existing sites. What will it cost? How long will it take? And how much advance notice must you provide?
Do as much of this "predesign" work before you sign the contract, and make sure you understand exactly what you're committing to.
If you've done all of the above, the actual service turn-up process should be fairly straightforward, if not entirely painless. Keep in mind a few operational strategies that will help minimize the angst:
If you're planning to converge voice and data via VoIP, at the same time you're rolling out MPLS, tackle each project separately. I wouldn't say you need to actively hold off on VoIP while launching your MPLS network, but make sure to devote enough resources to both.
Your carrier may urge you to upgrade equipment, particularly CPE and branch-office WAN routers. If possible, take them up on it. The time and energy consumed by reconfiguring and upgrading older WAN gear is generally much greater than you'd think -- and technology has advanced fairly significantly in the past two to three years, particularly for branch-office equipment.
Finally, think seriously about how your MPLS migration will affect the need for tech talent. As carriers assume responsibility for many of the architecture, configuration and management functions, enterprises are finding they can get away with fewer hard-core techies. The need doesn't go away entirely -- you've always got to have someone who understands routing protocols -- but you'll need five such people, not 20.
That doesn't necessarily mean massive reductions-in-force, because companies are increasingly forming groups that focus data centers, which have unique requirements for bandwidth and availability (not to mention server, storage and facilities). And branch offices, which are growing at an average of 9 percent year over year, pose special challenges, particularly when it comes to handling security , support and service.