Ways to recession-proof your WAN

By Johna Till Johnson, Network World |  Networking, recession, WAN

When it comes to the overall economic situation, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the economic crisis shows all signs of subsiding into a garden-variety recession, rather than spiraling into a catastrophic crash. The bad news? Even a garden-variety recession can be pretty grim. Unless you're in one of those rare industries that thrives in recessions, that means it's batten-down-the-hatches time.

In anticipation of the grimness, here are some tips for keeping your WAN spending under control:

-- Consolidate contracts. There's no right number of WAN contracts. In general, the fewer, the better, but the right number will vary according to your company's size, number of sites and geographic dispersion. It's a bit like the old Albert Einstein quote that ideas should be expressed as simply as possible, but no simpler. Don't try to force-fit your company into a smaller number of contracts than makes sense -- you'll push carriers past their capabilities, and end up with higher prices and worse service.

-- Renegotiate. Everybody hates doing RFPs, but it's wise to go through a competitive bidding process every few years. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: You'll get the best rates if you're sincerely willing to migrate to a different provider.

-- Converge wisely. Depending on your starting point, you'll save up to 40% of your existing WAN costs by integrating voice, video and data onto a common infrastructure. But if you're starting from a sub-par infrastructure today, or aren't currently running video but plan to in the future, you might need to think in terms of spending more money, rather than saving. You need to take an honest look to see whether VoIP, video-over-IP, and a converged WAN are right for you at this time.

-- Manage mobility. The line item that's most likely to ratchet up sharply in the communications space is spend on mobile equipment and services. Reasons include a migration from plain old cellular to smart voice-and-data phones, dramatic expansions in the number of mobile-enabled users (up to 400% in some companies) and increase in each user's use of mobile services, including things like EVDO. Complicating things further is the fact that many companies still track use of mobile services by business unit, or worse, as T&E expenses. One of the best ways you can save your company money is by getting a handle on all this -- but when you do, you need to avoid the knee-jerk impulse to cut costs by limiting services. The reality is that mobility can have a real impact on a company's top-line revenues -- sales, for example, can be up to 60% more effective. So think in terms of creatively enabling mobility. Maybe some employees don't need landlines and desk phones, for example, and can go all-mobile.

-- Plan for the future. Yes, in a recession it sometimes seems like things will never get better -- but they do. Use this time to build road maps for how next-generation WAN technologies can generate competitive advantages. Think in terms of creative use of cloud computing, software-as-a-service and real-time collaboration. When things get better, you'll be glad you did.

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