Windstream enters the SD-WAN race, sets focus on network simplification

Windstream Business

Windstream has made its long-awaited entrance into the SD-WAN race, signaling the service provider’s broader movement to offer software-based networking solutions for business customers.

Midsized to large enterprise customers that purchase Windstream’s SD-WAN service will be able to access the same technology advantages that large enterprises enjoy, including custom-designed networks and services, as well as a support team.

Windstream said its SD-WAN solution offers businesses—including middle market customers—a more tailored, flexible and controllable WAN experience.

RELATED: Windstream sees SD-WAN, UCaaS as a recipe for SMB/CLEC growth

Having started its network software transition on its optical backbone network, Windstream’s SD-WAN service leverages SDN to dynamically route business customer traffic over a combination of private and public access types to reach multiple locations.

Mike Kozlowski, VP of product management at Windstream, told FierceTelecom that since it started rolling out the product at the end of 2016, customer interest is ripe.

“We added a few customer nodes on the network and seen good success for those customers so far,” Kozlowski said. “We’re looking to continue to ramp product set and capabilities.”

Simplifying management, security

Like other service providers, Windstream said three issues motivated the telco to offer an SD-WAN solution: reducing customer downtime, the growing adoption of hybrid private/public cloud architectures, and the cost of adding satellite locations.

Rather than having to manage various routers, firewalls and switches, customers can maintain control over their network from a centralized location. The solution also simplifies management and monitoring by presenting information to customers.

Windstream’s service implements business policies that can dynamically prioritize and deprioritize traffic, making better use of available bandwidth to enhance performance and overall user experience.

By providing a managed service, Windstream can give a business a holistic view on how their service is performing.

“Our customers have a cloud implementation of the network and you have an application shaping tool and a single screen to watch the network,” Kozlowski said. “You also have UCaaS and all the tools that come with that and MNS cloud firewall that not only create tremendous cost savings, but all the tools that come from a cloud instance.”

By providing dual active links, Windstream can offer redundant and/or diverse connections at each site, increasing network resiliency. Using low-touch provisioning, Windstream can also scale SD-WAN quickly to accommodate new sites with easily activated circuits.

At the heart of Windstream’s SD-WAN product is the VeloCloud solution, which is currently being used by EarthLink and other providers.

“We’re leveraging the VeloCloud platform because it is a proven offer in the SD-WAN industry that afforded us to be a fast follower and create end-to-end service offering for the middle market space,” Kozlowski said. “It leverages SDN to dynamically route traffic over the public network using IPsec tunnels.”

Retailers like it

While the service provider could leverage SD-WAN across other verticals it is strong in like the public sector and financial, Windstream is seeing the initial interest in the retail channel.

What makes retail a ripe opportunity for SD-WAN is the remote nature of the industry.

Large retailers typically have a large home office and multiple sites across various geographies to support point of sale, employee training and the need for district managers to communicate with the home office and others while in the field visiting stores.  

“For the retail vertical it’s a cost play,” Kozlowski said. “They have some level of a growth initiative for bandwidth within their remote stores and they have a business requirement they need to maintain or cut costs around their infrastructure to maintain their earnings performance.”

Kozlowski added that retailers also have a “VoIP or remote application requirement, which the SD-WAN can accommodate with traffic shaping and performance over the classic over-the-top IPsec tunnels.”

A remote IT manager that might have oversight over 500 stores can look at application performance at any location.

“They can determine is the voice up to par and all the parameters of the voice service acceptable,” Kozlowski said. “If they get a call from a branch that’s 500 miles away that IT manager can look at the portal and the performance and determine if they are routing correctly and what changes need to be made.”   

One retailer that’s taking advantage of Windstream’s SD-WAN solution is Kona Grill. The restaurateur, which has 45 stores and 1 headquarter site, needed a solution to support point of sale (POS), stock ordering and consolidating voice, access and vendors.

Windstream has deployed a 50 Mbps circuit with 60 phones and 100 Mbps MNS cloud at the headquarter location. At each of the stores, the telco equipped Kona Grill with broadband access and two Mitel handsets per store.

To maintain redundancy, it has failover of Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to a data center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Retail may be the first hot SD-WAN button for the service provider, but overall SD-WAN will offer Windstream a large opportunity for growth in other verticals like healthcare, financial and professional services.  

According to Forrester Research, 64% of U.S.-based companies are in stages of planning to implement or expanding implementation from a traditional WAN to a SD-WAN solution in the next 12 months.

Windstream itself is seeing the SD-WAN sale funnel grow about 70% every two weeks.

“We’re a bit underindexed when it comes to MPLS,” Kozlowski said. “We bring together security, voice and an access portfolio that includes fixed wireless as well as on-net and off-net third-party offerings over a software layer—especially the retail vertical—so it’s not surprising we’re seeing such growth.”

EarthLink acquisition will further scale

Upon completing its acquisition of EarthLink, Windstream will be able to accelerate its SD-WAN efforts with a greater set of capabilities and a growing customer base.

Following the launch of its SD-WAN offering in September, EarthLink has already seen customer interest.

EarthLink signed multiple customers for SD-WAN, including a 400-restaurant contract with national restaurant chain TGI Friday's. EarthLink is providing a full suite of services to TGI Friday's including SD-WAN Concierge, MPLS, Cloud Express and Hosted Voice.

The service provider has also been attracting others like Dunn-Edwards, a regional commercial paint supply company.

Kozlowski said that while he sees EarthLink bringing complementary SD-WAN solution to the Windstream fold, the service provider will continue to pursue its own path for now.

“EarthLink has had a pretty high cloud focus and they have an SD-WAN product which is one of the jewels in their portfolio,” Kozlowski said. “We’re expecting to take advantage of some of the benefits, but until it closes we can’t comment too much.”