Picking A Partner: 6 Criteria For Selecting An MSP: Part 3

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about 2 more of the 6 areas you should give consideration to when choosing a Managed Services Provider (MSP).  I went over some questions  to ask your potential partner when  looking at the MSP’s professional staff and their certifications, as well as what you might take into consideration when looking at  the partnerships the MSP has within the industry. Wheter you are an enterprise IT manager or a business owner you need to consider what level of best practices and professional developlemt your potential partner is committed to, as you want to make sure your MSP is as dedicated to what they do  as your are to running your business.  We also discussed Service Level Agreements, and how important they are, since you want to be sure that your MSP is ready to stand behind what they promise.  In this third and final  post in this series I am going to go over the last two criteria you should keep in mind, which focus on the operational capabilities of the MSP.

5. Network Operations

You are going to be relying on your MSP to keep you connected to your customers, partners and employees.  You need to make sure that the MSP is providing 24-7-365 operational support on all of the managed services.  Does the MSP provide such support? Do they do so from redudant, physically seperate locations?  Is their Network Operations Center (NOC) staffed with certified professionals?  Does the MSP proactively monitor data, voice and security services from the NOC? Do they offer tools and portals so that you can directly monitor your managed services? Will you be automatically alerted if there are any events that effect your service? Is your MSP using advanced Networl Management Systems (NMS) and Operational Support Systems (OSS) in the NOC?

6. Security Operations

Security operations are critical to the success of any business in the current environment.  You need to be sure that the MSP you select is capable of preventing security issues from interfering with your business, and that they can keep your  data and  ongoing communications secure.  Does you MSP operate a Security Operations Center (SOC)? Does the MSP offer a turnkey Managed Security Service (MSS) that takes a comprehensive multi-layer approach? Does the  MSP offer security alerting, logging, and reporting? Do they provide visibility in security operations via a web based customer portal?

It is my hope that you will take these six criteria in hand when evaluating which Managed Services Provider you will entrust with your business communcation needs.  We have put together a whitepaper entitled How to Choose a Managed Network Services Provider (PDF) that we hope you find useful as you make your evaluation.

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog.

Picking A Partner: 6 Criteria For Selecting An MSP: Part 2

Last week, in part 1 of this series, I wrote about 2 of the 6 areas you should give consideration to when choosing a Managed Services Provider (MSP).  I went over how a business owner or enterprise IT manager should look at the service offerings that their potential MSP brings to the table, and discussed what to look for in the potential partner’s network infrastructure and capabilities.  As someone who owns and operates your own business, and is an expert in your field, you really need to make sure your partner is an expert in what they do as well, and makes use of industry best practices.  If you are  a decision maker on technology matters for your enterprise business, this also holds true, as you want to be sure your MSP is in a position to offer a robust and complete service with a high level of quality.  This week, I am going over two more criteria you should have in mind as you make your evaluation.

3. Certifications and Partnerships

The partner you pick is going to provide a vital service to your business operation. You want to be sure that the MSP’s staff, as well as their partners, are ready and up to the task. Does the MSP encourage the professional development of their staff? Does the MSP have industry certified experts who are able to leverage the latest technological advancements? Does the MSP work with major equipment vendors, that have proven themselves in the marketplace? Does the MSP execute proven industry best practices? Can they provide for you a list of team members who hold professional and industry certification from goups like ITIL, CompTIA, (ISC)² and PMI, as well as form vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, Microsoft, SonicWall/Aventail and IBM?

4. Service Level Agreements

You need to make sure thay you can rely on the data, security and voice services your MSP is going to provide.  The best way to do this is to see what your partner will put into writing regarding service level assurances (SLAs).  Does the MSP publish SLA info on their website? Are the SLAs included in your contract? Does the SLA provie a rememdy if the level of service is not met?  Does the MSP offer specific SLAs for specific products and services?  Are you elligible to recieve credits in the event of a service outage?

There are two other criteria that I am going to cover next week in the third and final part of this series.  Be sure to check back, so that you have the complele list as you evaulate your potential partner.

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog.

Picking A Partner: 6 Criteria For Selecting An MSP: Part 1

Master MSP, MegaPath, Managed ServicesBusiness today is more competitive than ever, and you’ve made the decision to implement managed services to meet the challenges of the marketplace.  You’ve identified that you need to lower operating costs, and help your bottom line.  You know that at the same time you need access to leading technology platforms so that your business can stay in constant contact with your customers, partners and employees.  You need to increase the level of support you are receiving on your network, but you are not looking to add more staff.  In fact, what you need to do is make the IT budget within your business very predictable.  You also need to be able to adapt to changing market conditions, so that when your business takes off, you will be able to scale your voice and data capabilities, all while keeping sensitive data safe and secure.  You know that if you are free to focus on the core business, and don’t need to worry about running a next generation communications platform, you will have the ability to execute and accelerate growth.  The only question remaining is: How do you choose a managed services provider (MSP)?

When it comes to such an important decision, it is a good idea to have some criteria in mind, so that you can compare and evaluate the options available to you.  In part 1 of this post, I am going to cover 2 of the 6 selection criteria that you should consider when picking a strategic outsourcing partner for your business.  You are serious about your business, and you need to know that the partner is, too.   You need to make the correct choice, and pick a partner who will work with you and help you increase your profitability.   

1. Service Offerings

Whether you are running a small business, or a larger enterprise, you need to make sure that the services you need are available from the MSP you choose to work with.  Does the MSP provide a full spectrum of access technologies, from DSL, Cable and Wireless to DS3, Ethernet and Satellite?  Does the MSP provide voice solutions that support your current phone system or PBX? Does the MSP offer a hosted voice solution that is fully managed, and scales to meet your needs? Does the MSP offer managed security services and virtual private networks that can interconnect your multi-site business?  Do they offer project management services to ensure peace of mind during implementation? Can they install, support and manage any required equipment? 

2. Network Coverage and Capabilities

Your business needs to stay in touch with customers, partners and employees no matter where they are located, and no matter what device they are using to communicate with.  You need to make sure that the network your MSP is operating is up to the task.  Does the MSP have a national footprint that is able to provide the coverage you need?  Does the network have Points of Presence in multiple locations, so that you are never far from the core of the network?  Does the MSP provide robust interconnectedness to the Internet?  Can the network integrate your voice and data traffic, saving you money? Does the MSP offer multiple classes of services that are capable of making sure your calls always get through?  Is the core network using next generation optical technologies to ensure the fastest delivery of your communications? 

In part 2 of this post, I will provide 2 more selection criteria you can use when choosing the right partner for your business. I will discuss the last two in part 3.  Taken together, you will be able to evaluate the capabilities of your potenial patner, and make the best decision for your business.

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog.

Cisco Partner Summit: Networks Without Borders

 MegaPath is a Master Cisco Managed Services Channel Partner, and so we were invited to Cisco Partner Summit again this year. The event was in San Francisco, and gave us a chance to get together with one of our important technology partners and get their view of the networked economy. Last year, during the Executive Exchange, I had a chance to participate in a small, informal discussion with Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior. This year, I got a chance to join the Executive Exchange with SVP Keith Goodwin, who came up with the theme of the summit, which was “Write the Rules. Own the Game.” Goodwin said this message spoke to the opportunity for partners to take advantage of significant market transitions. It was meant to be a bold statement, about how Cisco’s partners can help their customer face transitions in business, and write new rules for success, which will allow them to own the game by competing under these new rules. The overall message that Cisco had at Partner Summit was very clear: Managed Services are going to continue to be one of the largest drivers of the networked economy, and Cisco is going to continue to focus on these market transitions by aligning their architectures around them.

MSCP. MSP Master, Cisco Managed Services Partner Master

Brian Billick was a surprise guest speaker at the event, and gave some very good insights into leadership that can be applied to any business situation, as well as to football. Martin De Beer told us that video was the future, and predicted that by 2013 90% of all IP traffic would be video; apparently, 60% of all traffic on Cisco’s internal network is already video. It was also pointed out how the generation entering the workplace now is used to making use of real-time video communication and collaboration tools, as well as social media, and that they will expect to find these same tools in the workplace. Certainly, Quality of Service (Q0S) and MPLS are key capabilities which enable video to move across networks, and will be required to successfully scale to meet this demand.

Noted author and speaker Jason Jennings also gave a great talk, before CEO John Chambers took the stage for his closing keynote. The VAR Guy has a nice write up on his blog of the presentation, which covered what Jennings said where the 5 rules for long term business success. One thing Jennings said was that “[a company’s] culture is the ultimate competitive advantage”, and I found this encouraging.

Chambers was upbeat, saying that the recent challenges to our economy had provided a unique opportunity, and that Cisco’s partners had done very well with the opportunity. He went on to say that by focusing on collaboration and cloud based services, we were ready to see continued business acceleration. He then gave a demonstration of the collaborative capabilities of the latest Cisco products, and showed how they allowed increased efficiencies in the workplace, while making better use of limited resources.

So, of course, Cisco continues to stress the importance of Borderless Networks. These are business platforms that allow your customers, partners and employees to connect with each other, at any time, on any device, no matter where they are located. By taking advantage of access technologies such as Broadband Connectivity, Business Ethernet, Premium T1, and Wireless Broadband, and combining them with services such as Managed Security, Hosted VOIP and Managed SSL VPNs, these networks without borders can accelerate the growth of your business, regardless of size, by allowing you to make decisions faster, respond to customer needs quicker, and increase your ability to adapt to an ever-evolving business environment.

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog.

5 Benefits Hosted VoIP Will Bring To Your Small Business

Small Business employs over half of the private sector employees in America, and has generated over 64% of the new jobs created in the last 15 years. SMBs pay 44 percent of the US payroll, and hire over 40% of high tech workers. (Source pdf). Small businesses really do drive the American economy, and they do a great deal of communicating with their customers, partners and employees while conducting their business. As a recent FCC Blogband post pointed out, “supporting these businesses with cutting edge connectivity and technology tools is not just a good idea; it is a vital national purpose.” With that in mind, I’d like to point out 5 benefits that small businesses can gain from implementing a Hosted VoIP service with a partner that owns and operates a nationwide QoS enabled MPLS network.

  1. Low Startup Costs– SMBs are always looking to operate more efficiently, and keeping costs down is always a good place to start. Hosted VoIP services certainly fit the bill here, with low start up costs, since there is no PBX equipment to purchase.
  2. Ongoing Monthly Savings– The cost of a combined voice and data communications facility will keep those costs low over time, too, as you realize the benefits of Internet telephony, which also include the lowered costs of making moves, adds and changes.
  3. Advanced Features– With Hosted VoIP, your business can take advantage of included advanced features such as call forwarding, call waiting, voicemail and 3 way calling, to name just a few.
  4. Call Quality– With Quality of Service, your VoIP calls are always crystal clear, and are always delivered securely and prioritized over data traffic. High fidelity communications are also an option through the use of HD Voice wideband codes and equipment.
  5. Business Focus – Because Hosted VoIP is a turnkey solution, you will be able to able to focus on running your business, not on running a communications infrastructure. And knowing that your partner is focused on delivering solutions only to business will give you peace of mind.

So whether your small business is at a single location, or has multiple locations (pdf) spread across town or across the country, you should really explore the option of making the move to Hosted VoIP. You can save money, and stay focused on delivering the goods and services your customers have come to rely on, while knowing that we are here 24/7/365 making sure you stay securely connected to your customers, partners and employees. It’s easy to get started, and you’ll enjoy the predictability of getting one consistent invoice for voice and data services from a single provider

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog as “Protecting Your Mobile Workforce from Sheep (Firesheep, that is)”

10 Topics for 2010

With the end of the year coming up fast, it seems like it is a good time to take a look at what 2010 has in store for us. Several trends in business connectivity have developed over the last year, and will continue to further evolve in 2010. Here is a list of 10 topics you should take into consideration as you do your planning for next year.

SIP Trunking – VoIP really exploded this year, due both to the increased functionality and the cost savings it offered to so many companies. In 2010, combining SIP trunking with MPLS and security is going to really take off.

Managed Security – Everyone knows that security is vital in today’s business climate. In fact, in many instances it is mandated. More SMBs and small enterprises, who don’t necessarily have dedicated IT staff, will be outsourcing this function to a partner whose 24/7/365 NOCs will monitor and ensure that communications integrity is maintained.

Extended Workforce – Several events over the last year, including the H1N1 flu pandemic and various disasters, highlighted the need for the workforce to be able to access corporate communications from their home offices. Telecommuting will see large scale adoption in 2010. Make sure you work with a partner who can reach your team wherever they are, and with DSL, Cable, Satellite and Wireless options.

Enterprise Social Networking – Facebook and Twitter exploded in 2009, and the communication capabilities they offer will invade the workplace in 2010. Look for various offerings in both internal and cross-company social networking in 2010, and make sure your network has the security and connectivity necessary to meed the demands of these applications.

Cloud Computing – We’ve been hearing about this one for a while, but I expect 2010 will be the year many companies move to adopt this technology. With Google and Microsoft both prepared with web applications, and with many companies having broadband connectivity in place, it seems like this is the year this might all come together.

Business Ethernet – Ethernet has always been a simple, high speed bandwidth option used for the LAN. In 2010, we will see large scale adoption of Business Ethernet for the WAN by SMBs and Enterprises due to the new economics that allow you to leverage these large pipes for a low cost.

Enterprise Video – Telepresence, Video Conferencing, Video Surveillance and Video Training will all see a major push in the next year, as businesses leverage these technologies to save costs, increase revenues and keep their workforces up to speed. It is vital that your network partner be ready with QoS enabled across many bandwidth options so you that you can be sure the video gets through loud and clear.

Extended Enterprise – People now work wherever they happen to be. In 2010, we will see more adoption by Enterprises of systems and policies that allow people to access anyone, from any location, on any device, at any time. Managed SSL VPNs will enable businesses to realize such a goal, while lowering costs and ensuring the security of sensitive data at all times.

Wireless Data – The application of wireless technologies to business communications will continue to grow. For years now, businesses have leveraged wireless voice applications to great success. In 2010, we will continue to see more deployment of data applications across wireless networks, both 3G and 4G. Wireless data technologies can enable rapid provisioning of communications to a store, offer an excellent option for backing up wireline communications, and can be used by your mobile workforce to access corporate data on devices such as Netbooks.

Payment Card Security – Securing credit card transactions will be the focus of a great deal of activity in 2010. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) will continue to evolve (PDF), and changes in areas like wireless networking will need to be implemented in 2010. All levels of merchants should be working with a PCI DSS Validate Service Provider (PDF) payment card extranet partner to make sure they are ready for the changes in the coming year.

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog as “10 Topics for 2010.”

What Pizza and Halloween Can Teach Us All

Most people, if asked, could tell you that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a busy time for the retail industry, with everyone doing holiday shopping. But did you know that Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, and Superbowl Sunday are incredibly busy days for the Pizza industry? Papa John’s tells us these are the three busiest days of the year for them. So, as you can imagine, it is crucial to these businesses that they stay connected to their customers on these days. This year, Papa John’s will have more then 20,000 drivers out delivering over 900,000 Pizzas on Halloween!

In this day and age, Pizza is ordered on-line as often as it is ordered on the phone. These on-line orders are received at the Papa John’s website, and then are sent to the local restaurant over the WAN, where the Pizza is prepared for fast and fresh delivery. They know that if that on-line experience goes well, they will see return on-line orders. These orders are only convenient and profitable if they get through! To make sure this happens, they know that they need an infrastructure that can handle the dramatic increases in ordering activity they see at these critical times, and that they need to work with a partner who can handle the load, and keep them connected to their customers.

Any industry that sees seasonal spikes (such as retailers between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or candy and flower vendors on Mother’s Day) can benefit from implementing a network that can scale to meet demand, while providing secure, continuous communications that keeps them connected to the customers and partners.

Having a fully managed solution allows these companies to focus on their core competency (such as delivering truly great Pizza), and not worry about keeping thousands and thousands of sites connected during a busy time. MegaPath’s customers know that we are here 24-7-365 making sure things are going smoothly, and they know they only have one call to make, no matter where in the country their business is located.

Well, I need to get home. The Pizza I ordered on-line will be arriving in about 20 minutes, and I don’t want to keep my Papa John’s delivery driver waiting.

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog as “What Pizza and Halloween Can Teach Us All.”

Top 10 Managed Security Services

Internet Security issues have been getting a lot of press lately. Facebook, Twitter and LiveJournal have been the targets of recent attacks, and CNET points out that not keeping your security up to date could be part of what is enabling such activitiy. SMBs and Enterprises should take this time to review their security profile, and make sure they have considered these 10 managed security services. By working with a service provider that can offer managed services such as these, you know you have a team of professionals working 24/7 to mitigate and respond to any security threats.

  1. Managed Firewall: Detect and block suspicious network traffic
  2. Intrusion Prevention: Proactive protection against known and emerging threats
  3. Anti-Virus/Anti-Spyware: Comprehensive real-time network protection
  4. Spam Tracker: Detect and manage spam on end-user desktops
  5. Web Filtering: Manage employee Internet access with White list/Black list and content filtering
  6. Site-to-Site IPsec VPN: Securely share files, applications and resources among fewer than 5 locations
  7. Site-to-Site MPLS VPN: Securely share files, applications and resources among 5 or more locations
  8. Managed SSL VPN: Securely connect retail owners to their franchises, and workers to corporate applications in case of disaster
  9. Personal Protection Suite: Managed protection for your entire workforce
  10. Secure Payment Processing: Secure, PCI Compliant connectivity to credit, debit and gift card processors

Posted on the MegaPath Connectivity Blog as “Top 10 Managed Security Practices.”