One aspect of The New IP that doesn't always get direct attention is customer control, based on automated access to network assets. This is not a new concept by any means -- user portals have been around for more than a decade -- but the extent to which those portals give users real control over their access to assets varies widely.
Cloud computing accelerated the demand for greater user control over network resources, by giving enterprises the ability to turn compute power up and down, based on demand. That whetted their appetite for turning up and down the network connections to those compute and storage resources, and that appetite has only grown as more applications and data have moved into the cloud.
One of the Holy Grails of software-defined networking (SDN) is the ability to make network capacity available on demand through automated processes, but while companies such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) are touting their SDN capabilities in launching Network on Demand, others are moving forward ahead of SDN to further a customer control strategy they've had in the works for some time. (See AT&T's "Auld Lang Syne" on Transformation and AT&T's Software Push.)
In announcing the completion of the acquisition of MegaPath Inc. 's network services business this week, Global Capacity executives are stressing the new levels of back-office automation they will now be able to give both enterprise and carrier customers. This is a company already built around automation -- its secret sauce is the One Marketplace platform, which automates the process of finding and pricing available access lines to specific locations around the US. (See Global Capacity Sees Growth in MegaPath Deal.)
But by gaining MegaPath's back-office integration of provisioning, billing and inventory management, Global Capacity is automating a different set of key processes and will be able to give its customers faster service and greater control. And by adding analytics, the carrier hopes to make it customer toolkits even more robust.
The MegaPath system is built on something Covad Communications developed more than a decade ago, when the competitive carrier was working hard to be the only national provider of DSL-based competitive services to survive (anyone remember Rhythms NetConnections or NorthPoint Communications?) and created an innovative back-office system to support a customer portal and solve the conundrum of provisioning DSL services quickly.
Today's challenges are different, as noted by Global Capacity president Jack Lodge and chief revenue officer Ben Edmond.
Many enterprises are trying to connect multiple facilities, including data centers, because increasingly their applications are hosted in sites distant from the end users, Edmond says. The complication there is that, as he puts it, "networks aren't straight lines," but more typically a series of intersections.
What customers want is the ability to know they are using the most efficient network paths to tie together its facilities, and that usage changes as network conditions and capacities change, and that requires not just having the physical resources and an inventory of those resources, but also analytics built around all of that.
"We want to give our customers tools and insight to build a better user experience -- to take proactive measures to test, to change and to add capabilities based on the insight they are seeing," Edmond says. "We want to provide them analytics around their environment and their use of their network. We have customers with hundreds or thousands of circuits and a new supply being provided all the time, and they need to run analytics and see how the network has changed in terms of capacity and design opportunities."
The ability to drive scale is important, notes Lodge, but because of market fragmentation, it's difficult for individual customers to take advantage of the broad diversity of networks and the massive amount of investment in physical infrastructure the telecom industry is making. One of Global Capacity's ongoing efforts through One Marketplace is keeping the latest information about what infrastructure is available where and at what price at its customers' fingertips.
This is one example of one service provider's efforts to capitalize on automation to benefit its customers in multiple ways, including using analytics to select the best network options. We've seen a number of these efforts over the past two years, in particular, and I think we will see many more in 2015, as network operators seek to differentiate their services.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading