Jargon can make even the most exciting new technology seem scary. Yet, for reasons unexplained, technology companies can’t stop themselves from using ‘tech speak’. Network technology is experiencing its biggest transformation in decades, with incredible benefits to enterprise customers. Yet, we can’t help but obscure the significance of what’s happening by using acronyms (SDN, NFV, PN, SD-WAN) to refer to and complicate the building blocks of this change.
That’s unfortunate, because beneath the acronyms lies a fundamental change of the way networks function, separating the “brains” (routing) from the “brawn” (packet forwarding). This deceivingly simple concept is powerful because it centralizes the intelligence and puts the user in control of the network, enabling it to be more dynamic and robust. It’s such a powerful concept, it holds the potential to enable companies everywhere to deliver on the promise of IT/digital transformation and innovate in ways that are simply not possible with traditional networks. Especially those organizations on a high-speed path to the cloud.
Innovating from the “outside-in” is a start, but has limits
The most visible of these acronyms, SD-WAN, has been taking the industry by storm, empowering businesses of all sizes to better manage their networks through elastic connectivity, application-based routing, centralized policy management and powerful visibility/analytics. While many of these benefits can be realized “over the top”, without service provider enablement (or awareness), this DIY, “outside-in” approach can be complex and, quite frankly, misses-out on the true potential SD-WAN technology can deliver. With the underpinning service provider connectivity as an unwitting participant, the core network remains rigid and inefficient. It’s akin to the early days of the automobile era. You may have a cool new car with an internal combustion engine, but you’re still limited by the pothole-riddled roads of the early 20th century.
An “inside-out” Cloud Core approach
What many in enterprise IT don’t know is the full potential offered by these technologies can only be realized if service providers adopt an “inside-out” approach to transform the way their own networks function. In the prior analogy, we need to change the way we build “roads” to align with the new vehicles that drive on those roads. At Windstream Enterprise, we’re embracing and combining this wave of new technologies to enable efficient and flexible network configuration, performance-optimize routing for real-time communications and other latency-sensitive traffic, and enable proactive monitoring and repair. We refer to our approach as our Cloud Core network architecture.
In the cloud, the service provider’s network matters
Unlike traditional networks, our Cloud Core architecture couples the ability to share functions on common hardware with a centralized, software-centric configuration offering end-to-end orchestration and management of components across various domains of our network. This allows us to accelerate service delivery and configuration, adjust traffic flows for optimal performance and speed trouble resolution. Combined with our self-service portal providing control, analytics and enablement across multiple services, and you start to unleash the network’s full potential. Which, in an anytime, anywhere, cloud centric communications/computing environment, can be a huge differentiator.
Committed to the core
As most anyone in enterprise IT can attest, delivering against expectations today requires new perspectives. At WE, we’re committed to this path with the goal of putting full control over the “brains” of the services in our customers’ hands. The first fruits of our labor can be seen in our SD-WAN Concierge, which boasts a full self-service portal, and which is optimized to deliver the highest QoS, as well as with OfficeSuite UC, our easy to use UCaaS solution. We’ve also applied this to our Wavelength Services and have plans to do so to our Ethernet services and a next-gen firewall solution to be rolled out later this year. All good examples of the kind of transformational thinking you should expect from your service provider as you transform your business to adapt and thrive in today’s fast-changing, cloud-centric environment.
Art Nichols is the Vice President of Architecture and Technology at Windstream where he is responsible for network evolution, hardware and software certification, and technical product development for all business units in the organization. Nichols came to Windstream in 2010 through the NuVox Communications acquisition where he oversaw the network architecture and played a key role in the launch of the company’s flagship VoIP and converged access product. While at Windstream, Nichols has been instrumental in developing numerous products including IPTV, Cloud Security, SD-WAN, as well as advancing the evolution of the company’s broadband, packet optical, and SDN-enabled network. Nichols is a graduate of Clemson University where he holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Management.
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