Windstream's Mike Frane: Customers want managed SD-WAN services

Windstream has learned a thing or two—including that customers like a managed approach—about its SD-WAN service since launching it in early 2017.

Mike Frane, vice president of product development and portal at Windstream Enterprise, recently spoke to FierceTelecom about the lessons his company has learned from customers about its SD-WAN service.

Windstream's SD-WAN fortunes were boosted when it purchased EarthLink two years ago. Both companies were working on their respective SD-WAN services by using VeloCloud, which was later purchased by VMware. Windstream also picked up more SD-WAN assets when it purchased CLEC MassComm late last year.

Windstream made the decision to integrate SD-WAN with its core network and into its core Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) platform in order to offer SD-WAN and UCaaS together.

RELATED: Windstream’s SD-WAN, UCaaS pivot gains momentum

Mike Frane

In this Q&A, which was lightly edited for context and clarity, Frane spoke about SD-WAN trends in general and at Windstream in particular.

FierceTelecom: What are some of the lessons you've learned since launching SD-WAN?

Mike Frane: It's very interesting. What we've seen is that customers want a managed service. You know, the whole concept of a managed serviced really resonates with them. But the majority of customers are used to being fingers on keyboard. So what we do is we give them full visibility and control through our web portal.

So we have a middle where in between our web portal and the element management system are the SDN control systems to give customers, I would say, more of a playground to work with in, rather than the full capabilities of the orchestrator. We give them segments that are really more applicable to the types of activities that we see customers engaging with in a self-service type of model.

We found that really helps the customers get comfortable with the managed service approach. It sounds good and I think cerebrally they get the concept of managed services, but to not be able to put their fingers on the keyboard, to not be able to tweak knobs and see what happens is difficult for some customers. So the way that we approach it, it was more of a bridge or a co-manage type of solution. We've seen a lot of positive resonance in the market with that.

FierceTelecom: Are you seeing your customers wanting segmentation in their SD-WAN services?

Frane: So our SD-WAN technology does provide segmentation, which our customers take advantage of. Some of them are segmenting out their PCI (payment card industry) traffic. So their hypersensitive data traffic, they have segmented out in the network. And then they have their end user, their café Wi-Fi traffic in another segment. So, marketing the segmentation is definitely something that we're seeing our customers do more and more.

FierceTelecom: Can you talk about any other SD-WAN related trends, and have there been some unexpected use cases?

Frane: I wouldn't say we're seeing any unusual use cases that we haven't predicted. But, you know, we are seeing that customers are very used to the hybrid approach, whether it's the hybrid management approach that I just talked about with the co-management to the portal or the visibility and control that we provide them.

It seems that hybrid networking is starting to come out from more and more of the service providers lately and it's been something that Windstream's been doing for the last 15 years. You know, things like leveraging MPLS, broadband and cellular to give customers a really solid network at an affordable price point. We're seeing more customers, especially more enterprise customers, adopting that approach.

It used to be that companies would not look at any type of hybrid approach. They wouldn't look at using broadband, but now we're seeing financial institutions moving to that hybrid network approach. They still keep their hypersensitive traffic or their sensitive traffic on their private underlinks, but they are blending in more of the broadband and the cellular for more rock solid performance in up time.

FierceTelecom: Any other surprising trends?

Frane: We're also getting a lot of traction from single-site single connection customers. They are really using the power of the SD-WAN technology to improve the performance of their applications over a single circuit.

If anything is surprising to me, it's that single-site connection is as prevalent as it is. You know, the majority of customers still have multiple circuits, but there are those that have single connections and they're using SD-WAN to improve it.

FierceTelecom: There are roughly 50 SD-WAN vendors out there, how do you distinguish your service from the others?

Frane: After being in the market for awhile, it has been interesting to see some of the misunderstandings about SD-WAN and some of the technology that's out in the market today. There are a lot of companies that are out there that say that they have SD-WAN the same way that six or seven years ago everyone said they had cloud. Right? Because putting cloud in your name got you an invitation or opened more doors to talk to people.

There's a lot of education that we do in the market every day. Whether it's around future functionality or it's around service levels or it's just around how a service provider delivers SD-WAN solution functions differently than an enterprise delivered SD-WAN solution, we still take every opportunity that we can to educate the market on the differences and the nuances of the application performance of each of those.