Moving from DIY Vans to managed IP Vans is a growing trend, but putting such trust in a third party is a big step. There are many aspects to consider as well as cost.

For starters, timing is important. As Steven Carter, manager, IP Vans UK for BT, comments, “We do offer trade-in deals [for old kit], but it’s unusual to buy a load of routers and then decide to go for managed services.” Even so, many companies have too much invested to start from scratch, so a key question to prospective service providers is how will they migrate what you have, to an IP VPN? Also, you need to be confident in the new service, and everyone’s case is different. Carter says, “We might well run the new and old networks in parallel for a time, changing over a piece at a time to suit the customer.”

Steve Best, vice president of products and service for MCI, says change in the way companies operate is a main driver for managed IP Vans; “Organisations across all sectors are deploying centralised applications such as PeopleSoft, Siebel and SAP. Rolling them out across the enterprise is onerous; we know it’s tough, we’ve done it.

If an IT director can’t employ more staff, it makes sense to adopt managed services to free up resources.”

But that’s only part of the story, managed IP VPN should make it all work more effectively. Best continues, “Whereas applications like payroll, previously sat in each payroll office on a LAN, now they reside at a centralised location. Relevant staff needs guaranteed access to them, otherwise essential business processes fall over. These company-wide applications are the heartbeat of an organisation, so they have to have a higher priority than email and file transfer in times of congestion.” Hence appropriate Quality of Service (QoS) has to be guaranteed, before moving away from the typical in-house, leased line networks.

All suppliers claim that using MPLS over their own, private infrastructure is inherently secure, but Best argues that if IPsec is properly deployed over the Internet, it too is secure. It might be worth investigating the price/service guarantee differentials between using private and public infrastructure, and most suppliers offer both.

Another aspect to bear in mind is the degree of centralised control that is necessary on a distributed network. Nick McMenemy, marketing director with Interoute, explains, “A lot of our customers say, ‘Model a scenario for us’, and we do, so that we have the right applications running at the right sites for the right number of people. We ask them what level of control they want centrally, but often they hadn’t thought about it. If they’ve got email, Siebel and PeopleSoft all on the same VPN, they also need to know who makes international calls, say. Getting value from a managed IP VPN is about controlled costs and predictability of service.”

Sean Whetstone, technical manager with Reed Managed Services, which is responsible for the infrastructure needs of the Reed family of recruitment companies, underlines how important it is to know what you are trying to achieve. He explains, “We wanted several things when we put out a request for tender in 2001 to link 180 branches to our network more efficiently. We had been using BT’s so-called Flexible Bandwidth Service, which limited us to 64kbit/s over copper. It wasn’t managed and it was difficult to do that in-house. We had reached saturation point on the old network and getting more bandwidth was business critical, but without increasing the budget.”

Whetstone says, “We wanted someone who was prepared to pilot an ADSL service for the branches at the right price. We chose Vanco because other service providers didn’t view ADSL as a business network, including BT, whereas Vanco was prepared to partner us in piloting and developing it as a managed service.”

Whetstone adds, “Consequently, we got a 3000 percent increase in bandwidth on the copper links, from 64kbit/s to 2Mbit/s, at the same price as before, greatly improved service, plus for the first time those links are backed up to ensure business continuity, with ISDN2, and if we have to use it, Vanco picks up the bill.”

Price is clearly important and another reason why Reed chose Vanco; it constantly monitors whether it can provide the service for less, and if it can, passes those savings on to its customers. Vanco’s last benchmarking exercise resulted in a 10 percent annual saving for Reed.

Incorporating voice on to an IP VPN seems like the last stumbling block, but offers great potential savings and is very worth consideration. Certainly, there are some successful early adopters out there, such as Abbey National, whose managed IP VPN supplied by BT includes VoIP. BT’s Carters says, “Certainly 90 percent of RFPs we receive include a voice element.”

Interoute's McMenemy concludes, “Lots of organisations are still reluctant to put their voice and data on a common IP infrastructure, but I see it as the sheep syndrome; once one jumps, the rest will follow.”