(and not all of them are about the WAN!)
As companies strive to control costs everywhere they can, networking teams must be ready to respond to calls for reductions. Unfortunately, network costs have traditionally been considered tough to trim. After all, expensive single-manufacturer solutions and premium-priced wide area network (WAN) strategies are hard habits to break.
The good news for cost reduction advocates is that conventional wisdom is crashing headlong into a flood of innovation. With networking’s total cost of ownership (TCO) taking center stage, IT departments are opening themselves up to a new wave of vendors, technologies, and approaches. These alternatives can rival—or even surpass—the long-term value propositions offered by traditional networking vendors with household names.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five key actions that can help IT professionals reduce network costs.
Embrace Alternative Wide Area Network Technologies
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to take a serious look at what’s next in networking technology, especially in the WAN. Innovative approaches like SD-WAN and cloud-based security for remote sites offer new ways to lower network costs.
SD-WAN is a highly flexible technology that lets organizations take advantage of low-cost broadband connectivity to deliver high performance with dramatic savings over multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) leased lines. SD-WAN pricing can vary greatly from one provider to another, so it’s important to compare closely, but reducing monthly per-site costs by $1,000 to as much as $9,000 is a strong incentive.
In addition to re-thinking your WAN options, there is also an opportunity to reduce networking costs at remote sites by replacing traditional perimeter protection with a cloud-based security solution. Instead of deploying firewalls at all locations, a single cloud service such as GlobalProtect from Palo Alto Networks provides a centralized approach that reduces hardware and operating costs significantly, while simplifying management and enforcing security policies more consistently.
Adopt a “Build Your Own Platform”Philosophy
We often hear from our clients that it’s important to question closed, single-vendor solutions, and we agree. It usually takes multiple vendors to create a network environment that meets all the unique needs of a business. From a long-term cost perspective, monolithic solutions are typically more expensive than highly interoperable, best-of-breed approaches. Single-vendor solutions limit choice, lack important features you may need down the road, and give large vendors all the negotiating leverage.
Adopting a best-of-breed strategy lets you focus relentlessly on finding the highest value and best fit for your business. The biggest danger in not taking a best-of-breed approach is the cost of having to “rip and replace” systems at some point down the line. One company we know selected a certain firewall solution because of an existing relationship with its established networking vendor. Now the firewalls aren’t living up to what the company needs, and since they’re not standalone solutions the company may be forced to rip out the entire network and start over. Failing to “get it right the first time” has saddled them with a tough decision and the potential for a much higher overall cost. Lesson learned: TCO includes the cost of mistakes, too.
Re-evaluate Your Networking Vendors Frequently
For some networking pros, the old saying “nobody gets fired for buying from Number One” still applies. But many of the IT teams with whom we work have found that it’s OK to look beyond the vendors they’ve been using for decades and place trust in others as well. By taking advantage of competing innovations, organizations not only enhance the value of their network, they also find opportunities to reduce TCO.
It makes sense when you think about it: an incumbent vendor has no incentive to think outside its own portfolio of boxes and recommend alternatives with more features and better opportunities for cost savings. This is true for wired, wireless, and wide area networks alike. Competition promotes innovation and usually provides more bang for the buck than sticking with the same vendor for too long. Just remember to ask any vendor who leads with price to show exactly how their solution will remain cost-effective over time.
Be Aware of the Places Where “Hidden TCO” Lurks
In addition to looking at the near-term hardware costs, it’s wise to examine all the aspects of network ownership that contribute to its total cost of ownership (TCO). These can include the obvious ones, such as management costs and service plans, as well as hidden costs you may not have considered. Here are a few examples.
Subscription fees can replace large up-front CapEx hits with budget-friendly pay-as-you-go spending. The model has many advantages and may well make perfect sense for your enterprise. But much like a lease on a new car, subscriptions must be carefully evaluated for their cost impact over time. Like ongoing maintenance, these charges should be projected and incorporated into a long-term TCO analysis that allows you to compare the real costs of both the purchase and subscription model for any network purchase you’re planning.
Bundling tactics during the sales process also deserve scrutiny. When a vendor packages multiple components together for purchase, the promise is usually one of enhanced value through added features, not lower price. That’s fine, as long as you need everything in the bundle. If not, you’ll be paying for items you won’t use. Furthermore, throw-ins may not be evaluated thoroughly and may turn out to have mediocre value when compared to a well-integrated best-in-class solution. A bundled license that’s cheap today may not be right for you later. Consider taking a pass on “throw-in” features that don’t precisely fit your known needs.
Preserve Your Existing Investments
Change is good when it helps a company reach crucial business goals and gain competitive advantage in the marketplace. But whenever we contemplate new technologies and new approaches to infrastructure, it’s smart to preserve existing investments wherever possible.
The key here is to focus on network solutions that deliver maximum agility. A solution should integrate well with your current network systems (firewalls, load balancing, etc.) and operational platforms, while preserving the ability to pivot and support future initiatives. This cannot happen if you allow one vendor to dictate your tech stack now or in the future. Determine which of your existing investments, if left in place, could help minimize future costs while not adversely impacting your ability to evolve and transform your business.
Remember that your largest existing investment is likely in your people. A major cost factor involved in new technology is the need for expensive training, which is an often-overlooked contributor to TCO. Preserve the investments you’ve already made in your people and processes, but don’t let training costs keep you from deploying those game-changing solutions that can make your operation lean and productive. And remember that whenever a current vendor makes a major change in direction, it creates a perfect opportunity to evaluate the rest of the market.
Conclusion: Conduct an Evenhanded Discussion and Keep Your Spreadsheet Handy
Ultimately, the best path to reducing costs depends on your organization’s unique networking use cases. When we work with customers, we insist on having a rational and proactive discussion about what we can provide and how other solutions compare. We start with a best-of-breed attitude, then consider everything from business goals to risks involved, technical needs, interoperability considerations, and opportunities to leverage current investments. This results in a long-term roadmap that optimizes costs based on your criteria, not a single vendor’s feature set.
There’s no question that it can be painful to compare buy vs. subscribe and bundle vs. a la carte alternatives, which can be a fruitless “apples to oranges” exercise. But your best decisions will come from knowing as much as you can about all cost contributors, then sitting down with a spreadsheet to compare their bottom line impacts over a time horizon that’s meaningful to your business.