Verizon Crashes Silos to Build Clouds

The organization behind Verizon Enterprise Solutions 's rapid rollout of cloud-based services isn't typical of the large telecom operator. Instead, it's an autonomous development and organization team that cuts across the traditional silos of a telecom operator by including experts from multiple functions within Verizon, including network operations, IT, data center operations and more.

In an interview conducted as part of Light Reading's Bridging the Chasm editorial campaign, Patrick Verhoeven, manager of Cloud Services for Verizon, and colleague Andy Shulman, director of new services and solutions for Verizon Business, talked among the impact of this shift. (See LR Launches 'Bridging the Chasm' Campaign, Why Bridging the Chasm Is Critical for Carriers and Bridging the Chasm: A Manifesto.)

"The reason we have been able to move as fast as we have, given that we are a large carrier, is that in many respects we have created an autonomous organization within Verizon that can act at the speed and agility of a startup but still leverage benefits of a large carrier, with our deep pockets and our global footprint," Verhoeven says. "If we would have followed a more traditional approach and tried to leverage three different departments or groups within Verizon, it would have been much more difficult to be successful."

Totality's influence
The seeds of a single, integrated operation were actually planted six years ago, when MCI -- later acquired by Verizon to create Verizon Business -- bought a managed IT services firm called Totality. (See MCI Acquires Totality.)

"They really approached IT from a business-outcomes-oriented perspective," Verhoeven says.

Instead of talking about network or server capacity, Totality focused on business outcomes, whether they were of the performance of specific business applications or certain metrics. After the acquisition, that approach was embraced by the part of Verizon focused on delivering IT services. In 2009, Verizon's IT solutions group, with its integrated team, turned its focus to cloud services.

"The IT solutions group, in many ways we act, think and operate differently than many other groups within Verizon in that we are very autonomous, have a lot of latitude to set our strategy and drive our direction," Verhoeven says. "We have the flexibility to bring these resources we need into our respective organizations to get the job done and whether that is a networking resource or storage resource -- we have the flexibility to bring these resources together."

Common language
But simply putting network engineers on the same team as IT personnel and back-office staff wasn't enough to get the team to work together. One immediate challenge was getting everyone to speak the same language.

"Just getting on same page and having a common vernacular, is sometimes half the battle," Verhoeven says.

Verizon's approach was to require everyone to learn IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Version 3, says Shulman. ITIL is a set of documents originally created by the U.K. government but now generally used worldwide to define and describe procedures and best practices in providing IT services.

Every product manager on the team has to go through ITIL Foundation certification, "so when my product managers talk to Andy's operational guys, they are speaking the common language of IT," Verhoeven says. "That has helped us bridge the information gaps."

The cloud services group also embraced Scrum, an agile software development method used to methodically break down large projects into doable pieces and track the progress of those pieces to keep them on track. [Ed. note: If you are interested in learning more about Scrum, there's a very cool video here.]

Broader impact
Verhoeven believes the most notable sign of the success of this new approach is the speed with which Verizon Business has rolled out cloud services. Another indication, however, is that groups within Verizon are now coming to the IT Solutions organization for information on how they do things.

"We launched CAS [computing as a service], our cloud services portfolio, in 2009 and we did that within a six-to-nine-month window. That is unheard of in a large carrier," he says. "A lot of people are starting to pay attention as a result of that and look at the methodology that we have been able to put in place to drive this change."

That includes wider adoption of Scrum within Verizon, and re-use of the usage-based billing model created for cloud computing services. The IT Solutions group is also getting requests from vertical services and sales groups within Verizon Business to run their applications on the cloud services platform.

The effort hasn't been without its turf wars, and both Verhoeven and Shulman say the secret to surviving those is strong leadership and a focus on the overall goals and strategy. For the immediate future, both men are focused on tightening the integration of the IT solution group globally, for greater efficiency in selling the cloud services around the planet.

For more
Here's a look other Bridging the Chasm coverage:

Here's more on Verizon's cloud strategy:

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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