Five steps to cut WAN network costs, prepare for economic recovery

Tom Nolle, Contributor

Periods of economic stress are challenging for IT and network planners because they often require a balancing of two contradictory requirements.

On the one hand, there is obvious interest in cost containment to balance expected reductions in the company's top-line revenue. On the other hand, too much focus on pure IT and network costs can create a competitive and productivity risk for the company when the downturn ends. As a result, IT and network professionals are often caught in the middle.

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Networked anti-virus and intrusion detection/prevention tools, versus per-system solutions, can improve security and reduce overall costs by almost 40%.
If history and IT spending activities during past recessions are an indication, then there will be a one- to three-year hiatus in applying technology to improve business operations during an expected recovery. The reason is that IT projects, and networking projects will not be immediately approved because the planners and strategists today are in no position to guarantee the benefits and success of technology decisions. Sticking your neck too far out in the current economic climate is just too risky.

Most companies will launch technology planning and strategies for next year beginning in September or early October. Unless you start thinking about projects and taking some action now, however, by that time it may be too late to launch plans that will kick into high gear next year. What is needed are some immediate strategies to create win-win situations instead of trade-offs between cost management and benefit realization.

Here are five things you can do today to contain costs and better position your network (WAN, LAN, WLAN, etc.) and IT operation for the economic recovery that is sure to come.

1. Accelerate Your Applications. Data compression technology can increase the effective capacity of networks by shrinking data payload size. The problem is insertion delay, which can hurt real-time applications Application acceleration is designed to not only optimize aimed at not only optimizing compression by associating it to the type of application to reduce delay, but prioritize traffic that your management deems critical. Application acceleration can give you a 35 to 55% improvement in voice application performance with no increase in monthly network expenses.

2. Centralize Network Security. Eliminate per-system, per-user security measures and replace them with network-wide defenses. . Traditional security measures have been applied using system anti-virus and firewall software, which is expensive even with company licensing. Worse, these security systems are hard to administer, and users don't keep them up to date and may even defeat them if they interfere with applications they want to run. Finally, modern worms can often disable system protection. Networked anti-virus and intrusion/detection tools, as opposed to per-system solutions, can improve security and reduce overall costs by almost 40%.

3. Optimize network management and support. In nearly every enterprise, the cost of running the network is more than the cost of buying it. Nine of every ten enterprises today are operating their networks with 20% fewer people than called for in their original operations plans.. How can you make your organization truly effective under those conditions? The answer is to focus on top-down management, starting with managing application performance. Application acceleration tools and IT middleware can provide application traffic and performance data that can then be used to optimize how network resources are allocated. These tools offer APIs that can be integrated with network management tools to improve application management, and that integration costs little or nothing to apply. The savings in effort can exceed 30%.

4. Improve virtualization and network storage efficiencies. Optimize data center and home-office networking. Most of your company's high-value workers are likely concentrated in the main facilities and improving their network connectivity has no associated monthly cost because they're on the LAN. The data center network is often a bottle-neck for all workers, even those connecting from branch offices, and data center virtualization demands improved network support. Look carefully at the cost/benefit of a single-network strategy like storage-over-Ethernet, but also at whether application performance would be better if you separate storage protocols from your LAN. Virtualization improvements and fine tuning your storage network operations can cut up to 20% of your data center network budget and still augment capacity and performance.

5. Make greater use of VPNs and VPLS. Consider replacing traditional site connection services like frame relay or leased lines with VPNs and virtual private LAN services (VPLS). More common and generally used l site connectivity technology has a substantially fixed capacity and requires private nodal router networks be built and managed. VPNs and VPLS reduce the number of routers/switches you may need to buy, reduce management costs, and most can provide a 30-40% savings on WAN services over traditional offerings. If you can use Internet VPNs, the savings are even greater. Most significantly, VPN and VPLS services normally offer higher data rates that leased lines or frame relay, and thus provide the bonus of better performance. Just be sure to negotiate a comprehensive SLA.

As you rethink your current network strategies to prepare for the expected upturn, be sure to monitor how your key vendors are reacting to the transition from downturn to recovery. Many vendors tend to stumble in their attempts to confront market and technology changes.

Most network equipment and carrier service change-outs happen during recovery periods so don't be afraid to put the pressure on your vendors. Otherwise they may end up creating pressures for you.

Do you have your own quick fix tip for sharpening your WAN services and preparing for an economic upswing? Tell us about it in an email to Tim Scannell.

About the author:

Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is a member of the IEEE, ACM, Telemanagement Forum, and the IPsphere Forum, and the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal in advanced telecommunications strategy issues.

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