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Customers can see both their network and cloud infrastructure on a single portal that will soon let them make changes to both.

Windstream Portal Integrates Cloud, Network

Carol Wilson
7/17/2014
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Beginning this month, Windstream's cloud customers can see all their cloud and network resources through a single customer portal. Over the next eight weeks, they'll gain the ability to provision those resources through the same user interface.

The new user interface fulfills an early promise of telecom cloud services -- integration of cloud capabilities (compute and storage) with networking as part of an easy package deal.

Chris Nicolini, senior vice president of data center operation atWindstream Communications Inc. (NYSE: WIN), said the move is part of an effort to put its customers in control of what they use and how they use it. By creating a wrapper that encompasses network and data center facilities, Windstream gives the customer an integrated view of things that aren't necessarily integrated on the backend.

"Ultimately, this is putting the power in the hands of the customer, to do what they want whenever they want," he said. "They have been able to turn up virtual machines for some time, but now they will be able to turn up network devices like switches, firewalls, load balancers, and storage capacity."

The move is Windstream's latest cloud advance. The company first got into the cloud business in 2010 with its purchase of the North Carolina cloud provider Hosting Solutions. (See Windstream Buys Hosted Solutions, Windstream Unwraps Cloud Strategy, and Windstream Makes Regional Cloud Play.)

In conversations with Light Reading, including one following his speaking engagement at last month's Big Telecom Event, Nicolini explained Windstream's work to integrate the sales process, bringing together the sales teams of the cloud operations and those of the legacy network services. The goal is to have all the expertise at the table when determining how to meet the full range of customer needs.

That's important because Windstream is targeting customers that have complex IT and networking needs but aren't necessarily the largest enterprises. That customer focus, along with the company's local service presence in many Tier 2 cities, brings Windstream to the table with many customers that larger operators aren't serving.

"We are operating in some key Tier 2 cities -- Raleigh, Charlotte, Nashville –- as well as places like rural Pennsylvania, Chicago, and D.C., and we have been able to build up a strong regional sales force [for the data center operations] that is able to work relationships with our heritage network sales force," Nicolini said. "In Chicago, for instance, we have a strong network sales force and four or five guys who live and breathe inside the data center."

The goal is to make the two parts of the puzzle -- cloud/data center and network services -- appear seamless to the customer without "over-integrating," which might unnecessarily burden the sales and support processes. With the right people integrated in the sales process and the customer support tools that span both data center and network, Windstream can give its customers the best of both worlds.

"We will spend as much time with [these smaller firms] as we spend with those whose budgets are much larger," Nicolini said. "Some of the bigger guys aren't willing to do that. Because of that, we can do more of the advanced stuff and make sure we meet them exactly where they want to be met. We can share the full range of our experience, flexibility and ability to customize."

Windstream is finding particular traction in four verticals: e-commerce, healthcare, municipal governments, and legal offices. Over the past year, the company has increased the percentage of sales on the data center side that have been referred from the network side from the high 20s to 40%.

He cites one typical customer: An e-commerce startup launched using Amazon Web Services LLC but grew tired of having to manage servers, storage, and backup facilities, as well as its growing e-commerce operation. Windstream was able to deliver the compute-storage and backup from its cloud and sell networking, as well.

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

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Carol Wilson
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Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
7/17/2014 | 3:47:49 PM
Re: avoiding over-integrating
That's part of it, but only part. They know they have to make their cloud services easy to use and integration with the network services does that - but only for those customers who are on their network. There's a pull-through on both sides, potentially. 
DOShea
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DOShea,
User Rank: Blogger
7/17/2014 | 3:40:11 PM
avoiding over-integrating
Is this so it's clear the value they bring as a network operator vs. Amazon or some other pure cloud provider?
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