In many companies, a network begins as a simple file server connected to several workstations. The network grows as the business grows and technology becomes more sophisticated. Email and Web servers are added. Soon there are hundreds or thousands of workstations, subnets, remote locations, VoIP gateways, intrusion detection/prevention appliances and other components.
The larger a company gets, the more it needs a strategic plan for future network growth. Few companies have the in-house expertise to develop such a plan and continue designing ever more complex networks. At some point, many businesses resort to outsourcing network design, installation and support.
Handing off network design to a professional service firm leaves a company free to focus on its core business. A firm can often take on a larger project through outsourcing than it would be able to accomplish in-house. Large enterprises and communications carriers know that outsourcing makes sense. But outsourcing has only partially penetrated the SMB (small- to medium-size business) market.
In her "2006 SMB Telecom And Networking Trends" report series, Forrester senior analyst Michele Pelino found that, "Overall, SMBs are only in the early adoption stage of using managed network services. However, larger SMBs (those with 500 to 999 employees) and specific industries (retail and wholesale trade; media, entertainment and leisure; and manufacturing) are more likely to use managed network services."
These industries have at least one thing in common: Their networking needs are generally spread out far beyond the walls of a single office. They may have in-house IT staffs to design, install and maintain secure data networks at multiple locations. But when you add video, VoIP and wireless to that mix, most in-house staffs stagger under the load.
Outsourced network projects tend to maintain momentum better than those run by harried in-house staffers on a time-available basis. Professionally run projects tend to finish on time and below budget.
Of course, you can't just hire a consultant, throw your network at him or her, and forget about it. Before you talk to a vendor, assess what your company has and decide what it needs. Executive management should be fully involved in determining the strategic goals of outsourcing and in drumming up broad support for the project. An audit of processes, procedures and technology infrastructure that will be impacted by outsourcing should be conducted. Then it is time to identify what functions your business wishes to outsource. This is also a good time to draft preliminary SLAs (service-level agreements).
The RFP (request for proposal) phase comes next. This is where you learn not only a vendor's technical qualifications but also its business philosophy and exactly how it plans to satisfy the requirements of the RFP. Once you have selected a vendor, it's time to negotiate SLAs and other contractual matters. Your company's lawyer should be involved for this step.
When the last contract is signed, it's time to implement the outsourcing project. It is important to stay in touch with the progress of the implementation phase to ensure that it is going according to your company's plan (not just the vendor's) and that things remain on schedule.
Once the transition to new, outsourced network resources is made, it is important to monitor and manage the vendor's ongoing performance. You will need network-monitoring and -management tools to keep track of service levels and document the vendor's performance.
The Bottom Line
Outsourcing network design, implementation and support conserves resources for the things that your company does best. It can provide infrastructure and management capabilities that your firm could not otherwise afford. All in all, outsourcing makes sense for many SMBs.
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