Colt CEO Gilder talks Covid lessons learned and what's next on the engineering roadmap

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Colt Technology Services' CEO Keri Gilder says the company is starting to deploy edge nodes ahead of various proof-of-concept trials next year. (Colt)

After taking over as CEO in May during the Covid-19 pandemic, Keri Gilder has had a crash course on running the business while keeping an eye on Colt's employees and its future.

Gilder was able to get her feet wet prior to replacing former CEO Carl Grivner after coming onboard at Colt Technology Services in 2018 as its chief commercial officer.

RELATED: After five years, Grivner out as CEO of Colt; Gilder replaces him

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During the pandemic, Gilder implemented a wide-ranging re-org of Colt as part of a three-year plan that also identified four key areas of focus going forward.

Colt has a lot on its plate on the engineering front as well, including the roll-out of its first network edge nodes, a transition to Lean NFV and gearing up for 400G on the optical side, but Gilder said there's one critical skill in particular that has served her well as CEO.

"The main takeaway is that throughout the pandemic, and actually joining and trying to understand both the pain points and the opportunities in the company, is it has been all about listening," Gilder said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "I think that that's a critical skill that some of us take for granted, and that some of us actually don't do actively.

"Since I have become CEO, what I've recognized is how important it is to actively listen, and make sure that I'm hearing what's happening within the organization, within our customers, within our partners, and then being able to take that information, analyze it, and then drive action against it."

Aside of being proud of her employees and the telecommunications industry in general, Gilder said one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic was that the telecommunications industry is now seen as critical infrastructure.

"I think now, more than ever, that is abundantly obvious," she said. "And I think that we'll see governments start looking at the way that they spend funds to drive inclusion and diversity to make sure that all elements of society are included in the telecommunications platform just like they are with power or electricity, for example.

"Telecoms is now coming to the forefront of that, and I think that's a positive change for society as a whole."

Quarantines and shelter-in-place polices during the pandemic also caused Colt to change how it installed equipment and services, and how it interacted with its customers.

"What we're starting to see is a backlog of demand for circuits to be turned up, and that's going to be a rollercoaster ride that we have to go on," She said. "So change management has definitely come to the forefront. It's something that I think maybe we weren't experts on before, but we've definitely started to hone our skill sets against change management. We just don't know when a lockdown is going to happen, or when a customer is going to require a critical circuit that may have the potential to assist with, for example, the vaccinations that have just been rolled out.

"It's been an honor to be in the industry. At the same time, I think it has opened our eyes to some of the areas where we could be working together better on creating the connections, both physically and from a relationship perspective, that really matter."

RELATED: Colt launches SD-WAN 2.0 to meet enterprises' evolving needs

Gilder said SD-WAN has played a key role for Colt during the pandemic—it recently announced SD-WAN 2.0—and there's a bigger focus on software-as-a-service (SaaS) capabilities now. Colt is bringing SaaS capabilities into play to remotely enable a more secure infrastructure for enterprises.

Gilder said Colt's On Demand platform played a huge role during the pandemic. Colt's On Demand bandwidth service allows customers to spin up additional bandwidth as needed in near real time. It first launched in Europe threes years ago and was rolled out into Asia Pacific in 2018 and then in the U.S. last year.

"What we saw was a massive need for increased bandwidth, especially between data centers, and between a data center and an ISP," she said. "What we were able to do, because we already had that On Demand infrastructure in place, was actually turn up enterprise circuits in 3 minutes.

"That's where the remote capability comes into play. We didn't have to roll out trucks. We didn't have to roll out people, but we could enable terabytes of bandwidth on demand within 3 minutes when our customers needed it."

While turning up circuits in 3 minutes was a big benefit, Gilder said it's another thing to understand the performance, the monitoring, and the fault indicators of those circuits in order to have a highly reliable network.

"What we also are going to be moving towards is a more predictive type of capability," Gilder said. "We're putting a significant amount of investment in fault and performance monitoring, and that will enable us to then remotely navigate the networks so that we can understand what's going on within them and provide capabilities beyond just the initial turnout."

Having more visibility into networks leads to closed-loop automation, but Gilder said Colt is working towards a view of the entire ecosystem, from a Colt circuit all the way to another service provider's network once those types of partnerships are forged.

"If we can come to those agreements, then I think we do have this closed-loop kind of capability where it's literally a 360-degree view of what's going on across the entire cloud to connectivity profile," she said.

Gilder said another area of focus for Colt is MEF's APIs to enable carrier-to-carrier, or carrier-to-enterprise, services. Last year, Colt and AT&T laid claim to being the first carriers in the telecom industry to implement MEF's Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) Sonata Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for a carrier-to-carrier service.

"It goes back to building the connection points around the entire ecosystem as nobody is going to have full fiber capability everywhere that our customers need," Gilder said. "So we have to rely on each other at times. One of the things that we are definitely investing heavily in is MEF APIs.

"The other major element is next generation voice. I think we forget about voice sometimes. But we've seen not only double digit, but significant double-digit, growth in our voice capabilities during Covid. When you're at home, sometimes your video works, but your video and your audio won't work at the same time, or your bandwidth is constrained. We're an underlying voice providers for many of the content and cloud providers, and that has elevated the need for better performance and more APIs on our next generation platforms as well."

Also on the engineering roadmap, Colt is rolling out more capabilities on its universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) for SD-WAN, driving more connectivity bundles, and adding more managed virtual firewalls, and virtual routers in its network functions virtualization (NFV) application base.

RELATED: Colt boots up production pilot of Lean NFV for internet on demand

Gilder said Colt has seen positive results from its Lean NFV implementations and trials. Lean NFV is a simplified and elastic form of NFV that, in theory, makes it easier to onboard virtual network functions (VNFs) and containerized network functions (CNFs) by using a key-value store as the universal point of integration.

"I think the future is very strong for Lean NFV and it's a much better cost profile for the enterprise and for carriers, like Colt, as we move forward," Gilder said. "So we are leaning heavier on Lean NFV than on the traditional NFV for the next generation work we're doing."

In order to drive increased bandwidth for service providers and cloud providers, Colt is looking to roll out 400G wavelength products next year. Colt has also started to launch its first network edge nodes, which Gilder said would enable a software-defined and NFV-based delivery mechanism.

"They will enable some of our first proof of concepts in the network edge," Gilder said. "That's rolling out at the first of the year, and we're doing some proof of concepts on the customer edge around robotics and 5G, holographics and some of the next generation capabilities that could be coming into the mix in the next 18-to-24 months."