Well your ability to do the above is going to heavily depend on the questions you ask, up-front. Both to yourself and the service providers.
In this episode, Mike Smith will outline the questions our company has been using for over 14 years to quickly recommend the best WAN technology and the best WAN service provider, to our clients.
These questions will cut your buying time in half and dramatically increase the odds of you finding the best service and provider… which will make you be able to move on to the next project quickly and with much fewer reoccurring, nagging WAN issues.
Click below to have an AeroCom expert help you quickly shop hundreds of WAN providers and find the best 3.
Mike: So, you’re about to start quoting wide area network technologies. Let’s just say, for example, you have an MPLS network and it’s up on contract renewal, so it’s time to set out and start quoting providers. You make your first call to the first provider and the sales person says, “Well, do you have time for some questions?” and you say, “Well, what do you need to know?” “BUZZZZZZZZ!”
Never start quoting providers before you’ve asked yourself all of the possible questions and have all of your details. Why? Because that’s going to dictate which providers you reach out to. In the scenario I just mentioned, the provider you might be reaching out to, more than likely is going to be the wrong one and you’re going to waste a ton of time, you’re going to waste hours talking to them, meeting with them, just to find out later on that they don’t have the right service offering for what you need.
So, make sure you ask yourself all of the critical questions upfront before you make that first call. On that first call, you should be asking them, “Do you offer this?” “Do you offer that?” “Does your company do this?” “Does your company do that?” You should be interviewing them on the first call, not putting the sales person in charge of asking you questions.
What I’m going to do today is I’m going go through with you the best questions that you should know about your MPLS network before you start setting out to get quotes. How do I know these questions? Because I’ve actually quoted a ton of MPLS networks for a lot of different customers and we have a list of best questions that we always ask. Why do we ask all these questions? Because we quote all the different service providers on the planet for MPLS. These questions are what differentiate which providers we go to for quotes.
So, I thought it would be fun today to sit down and share with you all of our best questions that our company uses to ask customers to help us differentiate which wide area network technology is the best and which providers to go to for quotes.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, whoa! I’m just listening to this. If you list out a bunch of questions, I have nothing to write them down with.” Don’t worry. I will give you all of these questions for free. I’ll send you a cheat sheet, just text the word “WANQUESTIONS” to the number 44-222. Again, text the word “WANQUESTIONS” to the number 44-222 and I will send you a free cheat sheet with all of the questions that I’m going to talk about in this podcast.
So, let’s get to it.
So, the first question we always ask is what are the benefits you like to accomplish through this network? Obviously, there’s a reason why you are quoting other providers. What would you like to improve? Is it bandwidth at certain sites? Is it higher levels of voice quality? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you adding a new location? Obviously, that’s the main thing that you want to have top of mind because that’s the most important thing. For instance, if it’s increasing bandwidth at a certain site, one provider might have fiber at that site and the other providers don’t. So, if that site’s bandwidth is a high priority, you want to make sure you quote providers that have fiber at that site.
The second big question that we always ask is, kind of, a three-part question. How many locations do you have? How large is each location in terms of the number of users at that site and the bandwidth demand at that site? Where are the locations located?
So, why that matters is because each provider has a unique footprint. Their network is in different places. Each provider also has different types of bandwidth available and different types of networks available. For instance, some providers might be able to offer SD-WAN service at some of your small, unserviceable sites. Other providers might be able to do things like MPLS over DSL while others cannot. Some providers might have fiber available in the large sites that you have with multiple users while other providers just do T1s. Some providers might have wireless availability like a microwave fixed wireless connection at some sites. So, knowing where all of your sites are at, like, are they in all the big football cities or things like that? Knowing that upfront really helps you narrow down the providers and gives you some good questions to ask them before they launch in to quoting.
Now, the next question is regarding job functions of each location. You should also be familiar with what each location’s primary function is. That’s a great thing to share with a sales person as they’re gathering quotes. It helps them understand what the priority is of each site. For instance, is one site just a distribution center while another site is a heavy sales location with a lot of phone usage and internet usage going on? It’s always important for the sales person to know so that they have a little bit of insight on what to quote while they’re off doing their work on their own and you’re off doing your work. If little hiccups come up like some fiber is not available, they understand what is tolerable and what is not tolerable at each site, so that they’re not constantly having to come back and ask you questions and have them reject their options that they’re throwing to you.
One of the most basic questions that we always ask that I’m always shocked that customers don’t typically have an answer for is: Will you be providing your own routers at each of the sites or do you want the provider to give you the router as part of the service? The difference is if you buy them outright, you are in charge of those routers. That means the provider can point a finger at you if something’s wrong and say it’s your router’s problem, and you know that’s going to happen. The other way the provider charges a small monthly fee for the router rental, but it’s all on their shoulders.
I think that it’s better to have the provider give you all the routers unless you have really big bandwidth at some of the sites like a 500Mbs connection or a gigabit connection, and the provider is going to charge you $500 a month or something crazy for this really high-end router at that site to do MPLS over it. So, unless the router is really expensive, I’d say it’s worth to pay a little bit more and have the provider give you the router, but know what your answer to that is upfront so that you’re not having to look at all these different options – you know upfront that’s how you’re quoting it all across the board.
The next really critical question that you need to know is: Will each site have their own, direct internet access or will you be tunneling all of your internet access through one of your other sites? That’s a big differentiator between providers. So, some providers do dual circuits where they can run public internet and private wide area network service on the same circuit, while some providers don’t do that and you’d have to have a separate internet connection at every site.
Along with that question, you should think: Do you want to firewall each site individually or do you want the provider to give you a network-based firewall where you can control all the firewalling from a central cloud environment? Or, do you want to provide a central firewall at a central internet connection at a hub location or maybe have two different sites as your main internet connectivity with two different firewalls, and network filtering, and things like that? So, you want to know that stuff upfront because those are provider differentiators. Some providers do not offer cloud-based firewall while some do, so definitely know what you want to do with that upfront.
Just like internet, you also want to ask yourself about your voice service. So, there are a few different ways you could be doing voice:
#1: You could be pulling all of your local dial tone through a central hub location. So, what that means is you have a centralized phone system at one of your sites and all of your individual sites are just pulling dial tone through that one site. So, when they make an outbound call, it’s actually going through your wide area network to that main phone system out from there and in from there. What that does, if you’re doing it that way, is that makes it where your wide area network has to be able to protect your voice calls all the way through the network. You have to be running Quality of Service through your wide area network to make sure voice is perfect at all times.
#2: So, another way you can do voice is you could decentralize it. You can have your own local dial tone at each, individual site. If you’re doing it that way, your wide area network does not have to be as beefy to protect that voice all the way through. The downside of that, though, is you have to have a phone system and manage a phone system at every individual site.
#3: A third way you could be doing your voice is cloud voice or hosted phone system. So, this is where you are pulling your dial tone from a cloud somewhere with a service provider and you just have handsets everywhere at all the sites. Now, one thing that you could look in to if you’re doing a cloud phone system, if you already have a phone system vendor in place or chosen, you could ask your wide area network service provider, say, you’re quoting MPLS, you can ask them if they have a back end interface with your cloud phone system provider. What that will allow them to do is tunnel your cloud phone service through their wide area network, giving you protected phone service all the way through so that you don’t have to access dial tone through the public internet to get that cloud phone system. It actually comes through your wide area network, which gives that service provider a huge advantage; it gives you a huge advantage to be able to use that providers.
So, those are the three different ways you could be pulling dial tone, just know that upfront and ask providers the appropriate questions.
So, now that we’ve talked about voice – that actually segues very nicely in to the next question. Do you have an idea what percentage of your traffic is real-time data, for instance, voice, video, virtual desktop, etc.? If any of your traffic is real data, like voice and video, some providers, like with an MPLS service, offer the entire network at the highest SLA possible and they charge more for it, while other providers will allow you to segment just a smaller part of your network for real-time voice/video and will charge you less for the rest of your network, which is non-real-time traffic. So, you’ll be able to get a discount off some providers, just because of the way they do their pricing, if you know what percentage, upfront, that your traffic is going to be real-time. So, a question you might want to ask your provider is: Hey, do you charge the same no matter what or do you charge less if only a small portion of our traffic is real-time?
Now, if you’re running real-time traffic or a lot of different applications on your network, one tool that might be beneficial for you is some type of an application performance management tool offered by the service provider. So, what this will do is allow you to break down the traffic on your network per application.
So, most providers offer some type of web tool that allows you to see bandwidth utilization per site, but they can’t break it down in to the different applications that are taking up the bandwidth. For instance, say, you have a site that is maxing out bandwidth and you don’t know why. You call up the provider, they’re just going to tell you it’s maxing out bandwidth and you could see that on your web tool, but certain providers have a tool called “applications performance management tool” where, through a web portal, you can actually break down that traffic and see down to the MAC address level who’s using up all that bandwidth and what are they doing. Are they downloading some type of video? Are they streaming something, maybe the World Cup and soccer? Not all providers offer that, so if you’re interested in something like that, you need to ask that question upfront.
Now, what about failover? Are you going to want to failover your wide area network traffic to a secondary connection at any of the sites? For instance, do you want two, inexpensive internet connections at one of the sites running an SD-WAN service? Or, maybe, do you want to failover your MPLS traffic to a public internet connection at some of the sites? Not all providers can do this type of thing, but if it’s very critical, you want to ask that question upfront if they can failover and what their failover options are.
One question that I know hardly ever gets asked by most sales people or brokers is: Do you have any remote users that need to VPN directly in to the MPLS network rather than VPNing in to a single site? So, some providers allow you to do that. What the benefit of that is that if that main site ever goes down that all the users are VPNing to, they can’t VPN in to the network anymore because that site is down, their internet connection is down. So, with the ability to VPN directly in to the network as opposed to a single site, those users will always be up no matter what happens to your main site. But, again, not all providers offer that, so if that’s something where you have a lot of remote users VPNing in to the network, you want to ask your provider upfront.
Another one is BGP. Would you like the provider to manage the ability for your sites to use other sites for backup internet? So, say, your centralizing your internet at your main location and you want all users to tunnel through the network, to pull internet from that main location, but then you have another location somewhere else in the country, maybe West Coast/East Coast who has another big internet connection over there and you want the users to be able to flow to the network and pull internet from them as a secondary resource. Some wide area network providers will allow you to do that and some providers will not. So, if that’s something that you want to do and it’s a big priority, make sure you ask the providers upfront.
This next question brings back really back memories. It’s, kind of, an old school one, but I think it’s still important to ask anyway because a lot of people have a lot of old phone systems sitting around: Are you using a phone system that needs to use multicast on any devices? Are you using multicast in any way?
The reason I ask is that some providers do not allow multicast on their network. I learned that one the hard way. I signed up a customer for a provider for an MPLS service. The customer never mentioned multicast, I have never heard of it. They went to plug their phone system in and their voicemail would now work across the entire country because the provider did not support multicast, and the phone system needed multicast in order to broadcast voicemail across the entire country.
So, they had to cancel all service, rework the installation, and sign up with a new provider. That was extremely painful and a lesson learned, so that’s something I always ask upfront now; it’s something you should too. If you need multicast for any reason, make sure you ask the provider if they support it. Most providers do not, only a few big providers do, so ask that upfront.
Last but not least: Do any of your sites have huge bandwidth needs, but only occasionally? So, for instance, Christmas time, a lot of businesses get super busy during Christmas time or summer time. They go from needing, like, a 10Mbps internet connection, or MPLS connection, or SD-WAN connection most of the year to, all of a sudden, needing, like, a gig or a 100Mbps. If that is you, don’t go with a provider that you’re going to have to get stuck with a 100Mbps or a gig all year long just for that small percentage of time. There are providers out there who will let you burst, even wide area network services like MPLS and SD-WAN, not just internet. Most providers do not allow bursting on wide area network services although they do on regular internet bandwidth. So, if that’s a need that you have, there are a handful of providers out there that could do it, just know to ask upfront.
Alright. So, that’s it. A ton of questions, I know, but, trust me, all those are really critical. So, if you’re quoting a wide area network technology for your business, make sure you ask yourself all those questions and be the person asking the provider questions upfront. Don’t just start calling random providers, and letting them go through their big spiel and ask you all these questions, make sure you’re qualifying providers upfront.
Okay, again, if you’d like a list of those questions, I’d be happy to email you a cheat sheet with all of them so you’ll have a softcopy at your disposal. Just text the word “WANQUESTIONS” to the number 44-222, and I will send you your free cheat sheet with all these questions on it.
So, I hope that was really helpful to you guys. And, again, if you ever have any questions or you need help quoting these services, go ahead and reach out to us. Just email email@example.com, and I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions for you or let you know which providers might be the best for your specific needs. Have a great day.