CenturyLink CTO Hussain revamps cloud, on-demand network strategy

CenturyLink's (NYSE: CTL) new CTO, Aamir Hussain, may have only joined the company in October, but the former Covad and Liberty Global executive is wasting no time making his mark--by realigning CenturyLink's cloud and on-demand network-services plans.

To carry out his vision, Hussian has made a number of changes to his network team.

Hussain said that his CTO organization will include 10 functional areas, such as business transformation, OTT services, cloud services, test and integration, and product development, each of which will be headed up by a specific vice president.

News of Hussain's move to realign the company's cloud strategy emerged two weeks ago, when it was reported that CenturyLink's cloud chief, Andrew Higginbotham, was stepping down after a 14-year stint with the company.

Because CenturyLink already owns an expansive network and various platforms it has acquired, such as Savvis, Tier 3 and AppFog, the next stage is to be able to provide a consistent service across various platforms.

"Our opportunity is unique because we own something called the network that puts it all together, and we have acquired Savvis, Tier 3 and AppFog, but now the challenge is to sell and build a service that we provide to our customer across these four or five different domains," Hussain said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "In order to do that you have to put all of the product development together, have an end view of the architecture, have all platform applications developed in an agile fashion and revamp your strategy around old network elements you may want to get rid of and new things you want to evolve."

Driving on-demand services
The end result of bringing all of these pieces together is that CenturyLink can enable a customer to control more of their user experience. In other words, they would be able to buy services in an on-demand fashion with related SLAs and terms.

"The end goal is to have one platform that allows the customer to be on-boarded in an automated fashion where they have complete control of their order, service, SLA, and we know what their issues are, and we're able to sell them more services," Hussain said. "We can also shortcut some of these long-term processes."

Although customers can enable services today in an on-demand fashion from any of CenturyLink's cloud centers, the next stage is to bring the same capability to other services, such as Ethernet and IP/VPN.

"If you go to centurylinkcloud.com, you will see how we're able to provide services where a customer's workload will come in and how easy it is for them to enable services, turn them on and turn them off and create their network," Hussain said. "I want to provide the same experience on an MPLS IP/VPN service or E-Line services."

A key part of this transition will be implementing more software elements into the network.

Like its larger ILEC counterpart AT&T, CenturyLink has been an advocate of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN). It has built out NFV in 36 of its largest data centers in eight countries to enable a host of virtual CDN and CPE services.

"We are enabling virtual services such as virtual CDN, virtual load balancers and virtual CPE," Hussain said. "It's all part of the same plan, but it needs to be offered from a single platform to the customer."

Bridging TDM-to-IP
Along with building a foundation to enable more on-demand functions for its service set, Hussain has also created a Business Transformation group, which is charged with leading the telco's ongoing TDM-to-IP transition.

"Even in this functional structure, one of the VPs is now responsible for the TDM-to-IP transformation," Hussain said. "Let's define a plan, let's check everything and let's start the process, but it takes a while to go do it."

In November, CenturyLink asked the FCC for permission to conduct its own TDM-to-IP trials in Las Vegas, with a particular focus on business customers replacing their traditional POTS voice services with VoIP.

For the TDM-to-IP trial, CenturyLink plans to conduct a two-part strategy.

In the first phase, it will recruit business customers to voluntarily participate in the trial and report on their experience in transitioning from TDM to IP voice services. In the second phase, CenturyLink's CLEC affiliate will exchange voice traffic that originates and terminates in Nevada in IP format with Bandwidth and Inteliquent.

Similar to software enabling more elements in its network, transitioning more of its network to IP will also help CenturyLink's customers move from a static to a dynamic on-demand environment.

"Our end goal is to put things in the cloud, move it from a fixed type of network to more of an on-demand type of network," Hussain said. "There's the industry phenomenon of Internet of Things and put all that data in the cloud and provide the right solutions to the right industries, and that's where we want to go."

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