The Cloud, UC and BYOD, Oh My

By Jamie Epstein

As we have recently entered yet another year, things are a’changin’ especially within the technology space. It’s hard to go mere hours without hearing about some new product or solution that is now being hosted in the cloud, and no, I am not talking about those fluffy, white pillow-like things in the sky.

MSPToday recently had the chance to speak with Jaclyn Mispagel , senior marketing consultant, Windstream as well as Chris Hasenauer, vice president/general manager, Allworx all about how these companies are migrating to the cloud and how it is reshaping their business operations and associated security challenges. Additionally, they discuss the affect social media is now having on companies and its role in the overall customer experience, as well as BYOD, BYOS, and unified communications suites that include video.

The full interview is below:

What is the most significant technology trend impacting the way businesses conduct operations today?

We believe that 2013 will be the year of the hybrid cloud. We have seen a growth in hybrid clouds, and more and more of our customers are benefiting from the combination of both a private and public cloud. With Windstream’s Hybrid Cloud, you can cross-connect existing back-end resources, such as databases and other supporting applications to the cloud, providing you with greater flexibility.

Hybrid cloud is the best fit for businesses with regulatory compliance or other requirements that don't want to run their whole application environment in the cloud (for instance a database that has high throughput, low latency and I/O requirements).

We are seeing the move to hybrid clouds among businesses that have both private data that needs a high level of security and public data that needs to be accessed by several people at once. For example, school districts need to keep student records in a private cloud, but also operate websites that are accessed by the entire district on a daily basis and would operate more efficiently in a public cloud. The hybrid cloud is the best solution, and one that we think will gain momentum in popularity throughout this year.

How is cloud computing changing the way you operate your business?

Windstream Hosted Solutions offers the market's most robust, enterprise-class cloud computing solution that is powered out of our state-of-the-art data centers. Cloud computing dramatically improves the efficiency and availability of IT resources and applications in an organization, allowing customers to rapidly deploy capacity without capital investments so they can reshape their environment on demand. 

Our solutions offer several different versions of cloud computing, ranging from public and private cloud options to one of the industry's first hybrid cloud options. Each is designed to provide the significant level of security required by firms of all sizes to protect their infrastructure and data from unauthorized access. More recently, Windstream Hosted Solutions introduced its Cloud Storage solutions, making it possible for companies to easily store corporate-critical information without the usual hassles associated with handling configuration and scalability issues. Cloud computing has become Windstream’s focus, and has helped Windstream continue to grow.

Have security concerns around cloud computing been effectively addressed by the market, or is security still impediment to adoption?

The majority of security concerns around cloud adoption that existed a few years ago have been addressed. Each vertical market typically has its own set of concerns from a data protection standpoint. While different, they are addressed very similarly. Windstream Hosted Solutions addresses cloud security at every layer in the following ways:

  • Each Windstream Hosted Solutions cloud environment is physically secured in a standalone cage inside an SSAE 16 SOC 1 Type II data center.  Windstream's data centers are also Tier III-rated facilities with on-site security guards, 24x7 staff, closed circuit video surveillance and fire detection/suppression systems.
  • All traffic flowing in and out of each customer's cloud environment is filtered by a firewall and segregated by VLANs. 
  • Intrusion Detection Services (IDS) services are available for any Windstream Hosted Solutions customer wanting an enhanced layer of network based security. 
  • Windstream Hosted Solutions also offers cloud anti-virus / unified threat management services on a per VM basis. 
  • Windstream Hosted Solutions provides secure console access via SSL website/portal for provisioning and administration. 
  • Windstream offers SSL and IPSec VPN for remote access to environment. 
  • Hardened OS templates are available for Windstream customers.
  • From a cloud storage perspective, Windstream fully supports data encryption in-flight and at rest.  

How has the unprecedented growth of social media changed the way you manage your customers?

At Windstream, we have embraced the two-way dialogue with our customers that social media platforms provide us. Windstream offers real-time customer support through multiple social media channels as well as access to customer service agents through chat functionality.

Windstream works to provide immediate resolution to customer questions through social networks, and we work diligently to provide the personalized service that our customers expect. Social media is providing our company with avenues to directly engage with customers, creating a dialog with influencers in the technology industry and build brand awareness.

“Customer Experience” has become buzzword and 2013 may well become characterized as the Year of Customer Experience. What is your business doing to improve your customers’ experiences?

Improving the customer experience will continue to be a focus for Windstream in 2013. We have always valued the high level of service we provide our customers, and understand that each of their problems is unique. We work very closely with our customers to ensure the customized solutions we are providing them are implemented correctly and meet all of their individual needs. Windstream will continue to make investments in its network and customer service areas to improve the experience our customers have with us.

Keeping in mind that BYOD is now pervasive and no longer a phenomenon, will BYOD heavily influence your business in 2013 (whether from a security, policy or device or app management perspective) or have we moved beyond BYOD?

As we watch BYOD continue to grow for businesses of all sizes, Windstream will continue to support each of our customers with the highest level of security. From Internet and network services to managed security solutions, we are working to minimize the risk that BYOD poses for a business’s network, system, and data. Our concern is keeping our customers’ information safe and secure while providing them with advanced technology solutions.

BYOS – Bring Your Own Storage (or rather, Bring Your Own Cloud-based Storage) – and dealing with it may, in fact, now be the new major issue most enterprises and solutions providers need to deal with. Is your company prepared to deal with it, either at the carrier level or through independent vendors?

Windstream Hosted Solutions does not support BYOS at this time, but does offer secure cloud storage solutions. Windstream Hosted Solutions cloud storage is an on-demand data storage solution that provides businesses with complete control over the storage, distribution and retrieval of data from any location, anytime, using a Web services API (application program interface).

Should enterprises look to pre-empt BYOS issues by moving to carefully controlled cloud storage in 2013?   

Businesses would have a more streamlined and effective solution by moving their storage to the cloud if they are looking to virtualize.  They will realize a quicker time to implement additional storage and experience less cost by only paying for what they need when they need it.  This also allows the service provider to manage and monitor their storage in partnership with their applications. Windstream Hosted Solutions cloud storage also provides customers access to data backed by a service-level agreement of 99.9 percent availability.

Unified Communications and VoIP have moved beyond the early adopter phase into the mainstream. What significant issues still remain that businesses must contend with as they determine when and how to migrate to IP-based communications?

First, I think many businesses that are adopting VoIP compartmentalize their thinking, viewing their premises-based VoIP equipment and SIP trunking provider as somehow independent from their carrier.  In reality, the main determinant of quality data communications, including packet-based VoIP communication, is the quality of your carrier’s network and the interaction of that network with the VoIP equipment and services your business has purchased.  Before you do anything, make sure that the equipment manufacturer and service provider have experience delivering quality voice traffic over your carrier’s network.  Forgetting this can lead to years of frustration. 

 Second, as exciting as some of the new features VoIP and unified communications can deliver may be, don’t forget how you and your employees use your phones every day.  So often, we’ve seen new VoIP adopters become frustrated because they have purchased a system that provides them with new  UC functionality, like presence settings, but doesn’t allow them to perform day to day tasks, like parking or transferring a call, in a manner that is intuitive and user friendly.  Bells and whistles are great, but make sure you don’t buy a system that forces you to change the way you do business in order to use it.

Will 2013 be the year the laptop dies? Why or why not?

Although the popularity of personal tablets and smartphones is growing year over year, we believe that the laptop is still an essential business tool. We will continue to provide services for customers using any device from PDAs to desktops, and will adapt to changing and new technologies as they become available.

Will 2013 finally bring widespread video communications adoption? Why?

At Windstream, we feel that video communications adoption will continue to increase in 2013. To meet this increasing demand for video collaboration in an organizational setting, Windstream recently partnered with LifeSize Communications to provide high definition video conferencing capabilities to our customers. This partnership provides Windstream customers with the latest communication and technology solutions for their business, by allowing them to communicate from their desktop or a conference room with a high quality experience. With HD and video communication, comes the concern of bandwidth issues. This product has been coupled with Windstream's IP networking solutions for Ethernet and high speed Internet service for the high resolution at any bandwidth. 

What is the most disruptive technology that will hit mainstream markets this year and why?

Voice communications over mobile data networks is not new, but I think it will really come into its own this year and change the way we view our mobile phones while accelerating the integration of mobile and desktop communications.  VoIP adoption has allowed one packet-based physical network for all voice and data communications within our offices. With the power of today’s Wi-Fi and cellular data networks, why are we still jumping between data and cellular voice networks when we are out of the office and on our mobile phones?  The time has come for all of us to move our mobile voice communications off the cellular voice network and into the mobile data stream.  Once that happens, UC, the mobile industry and business communications will be transformed.

What is the one misconception you would like to see set straight in the technology markets?

The one common misconception that I’d like to see set straight in the technology market is the idea that all technologies can follow the design arc of the mobile phone industry. 

 In the mobile phone industry, users are very open to radically new form factors and changes in user interface.  From flip phones, to tiny phones, to iPhones to mini-tablet style phones, we as consumers have happily followed along. That doesn’t always translate to other industries.  For example, the car industry—we all love the concept cars that manufacturers show off every year at trade shows, but when it comes time to actually buy a car we are pretty uncomfortable with significant change.  Drive down the road anywhere in the country and you can see that by our buying choices, the vast majority of consumers have chosen incremental change in a car’s look and feel rather than radical change. 

That doesn’t preclude innovation—look at some of the ways car companies are incorporating electronics in their new offerings—but it does preclude radical changes in design, at least for now. I think the business handset industry, for example, falls more in line with the car industry than the mobile phone industry. 

As much as we are experiencing enormous innovation in the business handset industry today, business customers still want a handset to look and feel like a handset.  Manufacturers who lose track of this distinction, and get hooked on radical change in design in an industry that isn’t prepared for that change, end up being challenged in the marketplace.

What are you most looking forward to at ITEXPO Miami 2013?

As always, we really look forward to meeting with our partners and distributors. With travel budgets being what they are today, it is rare that we get so many of our important partners and distributors together in one place.  ITEXPO is one of our favorite events of the year for that reason alone.  In addition, we always look forward to coming across the unexpected.  There are so many smart and innovative people in our industry right now, we can’t help but be excited to see what new products they have developed.

To find out more about Windstream, visit the company at ITEXPO Miami 2013, taking place now in Miami, Florida. ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Visit Windstream in booth #507. For more information on ITEXPO, click here.

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo

MSPToday Web Editor

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