Computing processes are constantly improving and evolving. These consistent enhancements have naturally shifted the working patterns for many data driven companies. With the migration to virtual computing supporting an agile, intuitive workforce, advanced network services will need to be utilized by companies looking to drive growth and success.
Virtual network services add flexibility and value to your company in many ways. That’s because these services replicate existing equipment (such as hardware platforms, firewalls, switching and routing, etc.) in a software analog.
This frees up resources that would otherwise be allocated on housing and maintaining expensive servers, computers, hard drives, and other hardware. Migrating these services to virtual networks allows you to dedicated those funds towards other valuable business investments.
A single piece of host hardware can be utilized to support multiple virtual devices. This flexibility makes a virtualized network more portable, cost-effective, and scalable than traditional hardware centered networks.
Here, we’ll cover the many benefits and some of the how-to’s of helping a company’s network service “go virtual.” We’ll also cover some of the best practices for creating and utilizing a comprehensive network services framework.
What Are Virtual Network Services
A traditional computer network is made up of multiple computers, hard drives, and dedicated servers that communicate and exchange information using a physical data link. What makes virtual networks different is the lack, or minimization, of physicality. A virtual network replicates hard drives, servers, firewalls, switching, and routing as software. In other words, it creates virtual analogs of physical computers and their actions.
As you can imagine, this virtualization adds incredible agility and flexibility to your company. It allows for greater scalability and better control of costs and results. As cloud computing and virtual network services become more commonplace, they are rapidly replacing costly management of physical networks. However, some misconceptions about virtual networks still exist.
Common Misconceptions About Going Virtual
As with any newer technology, there are many common misconceptions about what virtual network services can do and how effective they are. The most common myth surrounding virtual networks is that the services and technology required to manage and maintain these networks doesn’t yet exist. This is absolutely false.
These services are a natural progression in the development of wide area network (WAN) services and build upon the successes of many of the most common WAN features. While legacy WANs have allowed for the rapid evolution of the internet they are ineffective for cloud computing. Virtualized networks offer the redundancy, performance, control, and security required for cloud operations.
This is clearly the direction that managed services is heading. On-demand, virtual networks can be deployed quickly, reduce oversight and management, and are highly scalable. These services can also be managed from the cloud, offering greater flexibility and control.
Many virtual service providers are already offering these improved options to larger customers. Amazon, Verizon, and other leading technology providers have invested massive amounts of time and resources into providing these services for their customers. These services build upon the success of WAN operations but include better control and management.
This large scale investment in virtual networks by the largest service providers indicates the direction that networking services will grow in the near future. Virtuality offers greater flexibility at lower costs. What’s more is that fast changing markets necessitate that service providers offer state of the art network solutions for their clients. In other words, virtual network services offer the best opportunity to complete tasks quickly, efficiently, and within budget.
Another common misconception about virtual networks is the idea that these networks are “out there” in the cloud and are therefore not under the control of the company that utilizes them. This is also untrue.
The virtual network services framework mirrors its physical analog. This places control of data and other tasks in the hands of your company’s IT department. You can still control these actions, but physically interacting with hard drives or servers is no longer necessary. Further, many applications are already hosted in the cloud. This framework demonstrates how successful, and controllable, virtual networks truly are.
One last misconception is cost and complexity. However, the reality is actually the opposite. Virtual networks add greater work capacity at lower costs. Because your IT department doesn’t need to operate and maintain complex and costly servers and hard drives it can reallocate those funds towards other operations.
Creating a Framework for Outsourced Network Management
Many organizations are migrating network service management to virtual network providers. There are many reasons for this shift—financial considerations, a more competitive and affordable services market, enhanced network tools and options, and more demanding business requirements.
Regardless of reason, there are many benefits of shifting toward virtual network services. It reduces the cost of ownership, housing, and maintenance of costly servers and computers, it improves operational performance, and it allows companies to better apportion resources to business development and strategy.
This doesn’t mean that there are no risks associated with outsourcing network responsibilities to a third party. However, there are framework methodologies you can employ to ensure maximized results.
Simplify the Terms of Termination
Establish protections by simplifying the terms of service termination with your network service provider. There are three ways to achieve this goal—your rights for termination, minimal bundling, and a well established termination process.
First, when structuring and negotiating your service contract, ensure you retain broad rights for termination of services. The best way to accomplish this is to negotiate provider performance termination rights. This means that if the provider for your virtual network services can’t or won’t deliver promised performance you have the right to a simple and clean termination of your contract.
Second, use minimal bundling when drawing up your contract. This allows you to terminate specific areas of service without impacting your network framework as a whole. You can negotiate separate data management, router services, and other options so that you can eliminate or remove one with little to no impact on other areas of your contract.
Third, determine a specific termination process during the negotiation of your service contract. This should explicitly designate every feature of the termination process, including but not limited to:
- Termination charges
- Transfer of support
- Provider responsibilities
- Ownership of assets
- Control of data
It is in your best interest to negotiate and understand these terms before you sign a contract. This will not only give you better leverage during initial deliberations it will also make termination easier and more cost effective should it be required. Without these safeguards in place, you may find yourself stuck with a poor service provider because terminating operational contracts will be more costly and could also bring about legal difficulties.
Establish Clear SLAs with Credits Contractually Defined
A service level agreement (SLA) is a contract between a service provider and an end user. This agreement defines the level of service anticipated from the provider. It should also specifically define what services the end user will receive.
Your SLA with your virtual network services provider should include financial and non-financial credits that are clearly defined in the contract. This can include financial refund or service reciprocity.
Furthermore, your SLA should include required reviews at specified intervals of time, i.e. quarterly or annually. For severe incidents or issues with service, your service provider should provide root cause analysis. This will identify the cause of any issues as well as lay out solutions that will avoid repetition of any catastrophic events.
Your SLA should also lay out detailed plans for remediation of common issues like interruptions of service, dropped communication, and other minor problems. It should also include plans to improve performance over time.
Establishing clear SLAs with credits explicitly defined will help remediate issues quickly and avoid repeating those issues in the future. The best way to enforce your SLA is to assign a team member to monitor provider performance. You also need to make your service provider is made aware of any issues you have in a timely manner to ensure your SLA is properly enforced.
Don’t Value Price Over Service
During contract negotiation it’s understandable that price and cost are on the forefront of your demands. However, when price drops below standard levels, service and quality also drop. In other words, if a deal seems too good to be true it most likely is.
An ideal network services framework should provide quality services and affordability. Finding the perfect balance for your needs is what your negotiation should center on. While cost doesn’t necessarily indicate performance, if you push too hard on negotiating price you may receive subpar performance.
If cost is your primary driver than you need to allocate more resources toward monitoring your SLAs. Don’t just look for the best deal, instead agree upon terms with the provider that will meet your growing needs at an affordable price point.
Engage Vendor Management Throughout the Process
Vendor management is an important, yet often overlooked aspect of virtual network services. It typically involves contract management, customer/vendor relationship management, support in the development of sourcing and termination strategies, financial management, risk management, and more.
When you fully outsource tasks, you become highly reliant on the quality of service delivered by an outside service provider. That’s why you should include vendor management early in the process and keep it involved from beginning to end.
When vendor management is included from the beginning, you improve your ability to ensure quality service delivery, your ability to avoid service issues, and you improve your allocation of resources.
Outsourcing your network means you place your company’s reputation and performance in the hands of teams outside your direct control. By involving vendor management early, you can improve control and manage the virtual networking process to work for you.
To Bundle or Not to Bundle Transport Services
Bundling transport with other managed services allows you to outsource many time and resource consuming tasks to third parties. But the question remains, should you bundle these services? As mentioned above, there are pros and cons to bundling services.
The pros are obvious; you get to bundle and outsource tasks that eat up precious time and productivity to outside parties. These include orders, disconnects, billing, troubleshooting, and other services.
The cons are a bit more complex. If you bundle these services you may lose the ability to determine what your specific costs are. Cost visibility diminishes when you bundle transport services with other managed services like virtual network services. Furthermore, it moves even more control of your organization to a third party.
As internal knowledge, control, and expertise of transport is exported to external service providers your organization increases its dependence on those providers while decreasing its control over its own services. Finding a balance between control and outsourcing is paramount when deciding if bundling is the right choice for your company.
Make Comprehensive Plans Before Fully Migrating to an Outsourced Environment
As with any business decision, you need to plan extensively before you commit to outsourcing your networking services. There are many internal conversations your organization needs to engage in before you move your networking to a third party. These business discussions should include at minimum:
- Business requirements
- Future plans and networking needs
- Communications structure
- Data center readiness plans
- Detailed site migration schedules
- Financial management processes
- Asset management
- Incident and problem remediation
This is simply a partial list of the many activities that require delineation before you agree to a contract with a virtual network services provider. Migrating critical network infrastructure and services is a complex and risky proposition. However, the benefits far outweigh the planning required to ensure the transition is smooth and appropriate.
Cloud Network Considerations
Cloud infrastructures and the virtual network services are intrinsically connected. That’s because cloud computing utilizes the network for on-demand access to computing resources. In this way, the network becomes the conduit for incredible computing potential. The crucial role of the virtual network in cloud computing necessitates that you configure your network to ensure cloud performance, availability, responsiveness, security, and manageability are within the parameters you require to achieve maximum production and reliability.
Application Delivery in the Cloud
The primary focus for cloud, and therefore network, infrastructure is delivery and performance. Application delivery requires a network that makes rapid, logical decisions. This ensures uniform availability, guarded access, and optimized response times.
Because cloud computing varies from traditional data center driven computing it requires a dynamic network designed to handle various challenges. Your network services framework will help you balance IP address management, load balancing, and more within the cloud. This will help you intercept application and data traffic, interpret and manage the context of the data, and instruct the cloud on how to manage traffic while maintaining appropriate availability, security, and performance.
The Dynamic Services Model
As network services progress from physical to virtual infrastructures with fully matured cloud networks, there is one constant variable—traditional data center challenges become amplified. As networks become more complex while control becomes decentralized and data migrates to the virtual network, returns become diminished before on-demand IT becomes realized. In other words, how does a business maximize cost without sacrificing results?
Organizations are searching for ways to leverage the flexibility of virtual network services and cloud infrastructure while minimizing complexity. These organizations love the freedom the cloud provides from the confines of limited and costly data centers. But the same organizations also require exacting control over security, optimization, and management they currently hold over their internal, dedicated servers.
Balance, Control, Freedom
A dynamic services model (DSM) can offer the perfect balance between control and freedom. A DSM creates a holistic environment that creates better value from the whole than from each individual system component. This model can aid in the understanding of context and provide better control of information flow regardless of use. In this way it integrates the entire ecosystem into a logical model.
A dynamic services model creates calculated locations of control between users, applications, and the data and information they retrieve. These internal layers create intelligent comprehension of data context. In a way, it determines who gains access to what from where and why. This context then helps create the most favorable connection between the aforementioned users, applications, and the data and information they retrieve.
These deep connections, context, and comprehension are utilized to inform resource allocations and infrastructure adaptations in real time. This process ensures optimized data access and network distribution.
The dynamic services model represents the pinnacle of virtual network services. It is the combination of data, cloud computing, intelligent resource allocation, and an optimized network services framework.
The Next Step
Computing methodologies are constantly evolving and improving. Transitioning network services to a virtual platform is the natural progression of computing. Mobility, flexibility, and agility are the hallmarks of virtual network services. As you can see there are many benefits in shifting to a virtual network. Creating a framework for outsourced network management will help you successfully migrate your services to an outside, virtual environment.