You’ve been there: you and others are sitting at a table with a budget spreadsheet, reviewing line items in an attempt to reduce costs. The problem is, when it comes to an IT budget, attempts to reduce costs can have an unanticipated negative impact on business availability if people are looking at a line item’s cost but are not taking into account the item’s value.
Let’s take a fundamental component of availability as an example: Internet access. It’s an essential artery to your business survival. However, not all Internet services provide the same functionality. Some people at the budgeting table might think, “This service costs $X. With another service, we could save $Y. Let’s change. They both give us Internet access, so there should be no problem making a switch.”
That’s quite an assumption, and it overlooks a lot of critical details. Take a look …
What to Watch for If You Rely on Your Own ISP
For instance, let’s assume that key production components of your IT infrastructure reside in a colocation facility and you use your own Internet Service Provider (ISP) to supply Internet access.
If you opted for your own ISP, you probably asked certain questions upfront:
• Will we use a single ISP or a multi-homed connection?
• Will there be redundant or diverse connections, or both?
• Do we have the expertise in house to configure and monitor these links, and to troubleshoot if there is a problem?
• Are there costs associated with routers and monitoring tools?
• Are there additional costs or considerations for maintenance, support, space, or power?
Each of your answers would have contributed to the overall cost of your Internet access. If you try to make a switch to a new ISP to “lower costs” without ensuring that the new service addresses all the same questions with a sufficient level of functional parity, you might save money but put your overall availability in jeopardy.
What To Watch For If You Rely on an MSP
Now, you don’t have to use your own ISP in another facility. You might have opted to leverage the services of an Managed Services Provider (MSP). Most MSPs will provide a Service Level Agreement (SLA) on connection availability.
Here’s the kicker: Internet connectivity services vary with respect to redundancy, diversity, and availability. And, of course, an SLA is only as good as the technology and services that enable enforcement of the SLA. Remedies in the form of service credits for violating an SLA are not always a compensating factor, since downtime in many cases has irreversible direct and indirect financial consequences that far exceed the service credits. You want an MSP who guarantees you an optimal availability SLA and can back it up when the rubber meets the road.
So when you’re looking at the IT budget and need to cut costs, don’t be too quick to say, “Let’s go with a less expensive MSP.” Ensure that you are looking at the same features when comparing pricing. Otherwise, your decision about this critical line item could have dire consequences on your business availability.
What to Watch for If You are Comparing ISPs to MSPs
It’s one thing to compare ISP to ISP, or MSP to MSP. They are at least in the same categories. What’s more challenging is comparing an ISP and an MSP option against each other. It’s like comparing apples to anvils. You have to work very hard to determine functional parity and overall value before you can ascertain if the cost is appropriate.
Take the scenario of opportunistic and targeted cyber attacks. A physical connection to the Internet is no longer a guarantee of availability. Mitigating against such attacks can require additional services. Are those services included as part of the provider’s package? Or do you have to purchase them separately? These protection services may incur several thousands of dollars in additional costs if you have to foot the bill. Be sure you understand fully how cyber attack protection takes place, or your company’s availability may be in doubt.
Then there is ISP diversity. It is very likely that you have looked at local loop diversity if you subscribe to your own ISPs, since they provide redundancy and diversity. However, the local loops to the ISPs are in the same region: even if the local loops stayed up, a regional outage could affect the routing in both ISPs, consequently affecting your business availability. Using an MSP Internet connection that has geographic diversity to ISP egress points can avoid regional outages, since the resiliency of the internal MSP network will route traffic appropriately, ensuring availability of your critical business assets to customers and end users. This is especially important if you are subscribing to cloud services. Having multiple ISP egress points that are geographically dispersed in a cloud provider infrastructure will mitigate against regional Internet outages.
These are just two areas to be sure to consider when comparing ISP and MSP options. There are many others.
Keep Your Eye On Availability
If you’re looking at the bottom line, here it is: in the grand scheme of things, availability is what matters. Look at functional parity when comparing costs for services. Never look at line items in isolation or purely from a cost standpoint. These line items are often key components of your overall availability solution – cut them at your own risk.