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Operator focuses on businesses closest to its 27 data centers in delivering a consultative approach to selling cloud.

Windstream Makes Regional Cloud Play

Carol Wilson
3/6/2014
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Like its larger telecom brethren, Windstream Communications recognized the importance of cloud years ago, bought significant assets in the space, and has been working at incorporating its cloud and data center operations into its overall network services business ever since. (See Windstream Buys Hosted Solutions and Windstream Unwraps Cloud Strategy.)

But unlike companies such as Verizon Terremark and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) Cloud Solutions, formerly known as Savvis, Windstream Communications Inc. (NYSE: WIN)'s strategy is more regionally based; in fact, you might even say it has a local flavor.

Windstream is building out a national services presence, but its cloud sales focuses on enterprises and small to mid-sized businesses (SMBs) within a 200-mile radius of its 27 data centers, including the most recent addition, a fourth data center in Charlotte, N.C. (See Windstream Adds Fourth Charlotte Datacenter and Windstream's Plan for Paetec.)

The thinking is to focus resources on where Windstream can do a consultative sale, says Rob Carter, director of product marketing for hosted solutions, and where possible to combine Windstream's network services and hosted/cloud options in the way that makes the most sense for the customer. That includes hybrid offerings of public and private clouds.

"We are solution focused, not a credit card swipe," Carter says. "Typically our customers have a strong e-commerce presence or there is some mission-critical app for which they need support, not just being able to turn up or turn down cloud services."

One example he cites is a customer that is running clinical trials for medication and needs to give its trial participants cellphones on which they can regularly enter feedback. That data needs to be collected, stored, secured, and analyzed for the period of the trial. The customer counts on Windstream to provide the appropriate technology piece and the overall integration.

"We talk to them and evaluate what they need and deliver it end-to-end," Carter says. "We have the services and it's not fluff, it's real."

Customized clouds
While most telecom cloud providers are also looking at custom sales, in addition to commodity offers, Windstream's more regional focus lets the operator target its expertise and the training needed for both sales and support. The company recently announced an extensive cloud training for its value-added resale partners to enable them to establish "cloud-ready" or "cloud-motivated" status with Windstream for taking its specialized services to market.

"There is a lot of orchestration involved," Carter says. He includes robust infrastructure services, cloud service, storage, and analytics all as core competencies of Windstream's, but its real push is in tying all that together to prove to a CTO or CIO how the carrier can solve their business problems.

The local flavor can be an advantage, says Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Caroline Chappell, because it builds on an established reputation.

"Operators can make a virtue of being local to enterprise customers when selling cloud services," says Chappell, commenting in general and not directly on what Windstream is doing. "Issues of security and trust loom large when enterprises think about cloud so the close physical presence of an operator can paradoxically, be reassuring. Proximity also makes it easier and more cost-effective for the operator to deliver personalized support services around the cloud, such as consultancy services, which are high value compared to cloud services themselves and cement the operator-customer relationship. "

One other advantage is that customers can usually inspect Windstream's data centers for their own peace of mind, Carter says, and know their data and apps are not being hosted and stored in a telco closet or point of presence. The network operator does capitalize on having diverse data centers for some offers, such as disaster recovery services.

Where Windstream has invested heavily is in support and sales training, overcoming what Carter admits were internal conflicts over who sells what and how sales people are compensated. There may be three Windstream sales associates involved in the initial process of addressing customer needs, but what emerges is one solution for that customer, he says.

The company isn't interested in taking on the IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)s of the world or in getting into the commodity business of an Amazon Web Services LLC , but it does address a wide range of businesses of varying sizes within its sweet spot -- and sometimes even beyond.

"We do have customers outside the 200-mile circle," Carter says. "But that's not where we are focused. "

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
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Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/6/2014 | 7:24:50 PM
Going local
With cloud becoming a global commodity, it makes sense for a company like Windstream to tack against the wind and serve local companies who require high-touch services. For one thing, high-touch service is less likely to be outsourced to some developing nation somewhere. 
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