VMware partner Windstream Enterprise manages 169,000 miles of long-haul fiber, 500,000 seats on UC cloud solutions, and thousands of SD-WAN customers in tens of thousands of locations in the U.S and Canada. We spoke with Mike Frane, Windstream Enterprise’s Vice President of Product Management for Network and Security, about the companies’ long partnership and why VMware SD-WAN™ by VeloCloud® has improved network and application performance as more people shift to cloud-based enterprise applications and working from home.
SD-WAN has saved the day as work shifts to the home
“We have customers who’ve told us that they’re only in business today, since COVID-19, because they migrated to SD-WAN for that network flexibility and agility,” said Frane. “Their legacy MPLS networks didn’t have the resiliency, the scalability or the bandwidth to move to cloud-based apps.” The sudden shift has highlighted the need to integrate multiple access types into a single seamless network and move from a premises-based application delivery method to a cloud-based application delivery method.
As customers make that transition, they need to focus their efforts on applications and spend less time on the network itself. “That’s where Windstream’s SD-WAN Concierge™ managed service really shines,” said Frane. “We take over the blocking-and-tackling of network management. We do that through machine learning and artificial intelligence that we add to the VMware SD-WAN offering. It helps our customers as they become more application focused and less network focused. And we also give them a co-managed experience via our WE Connect portal if they want it, so they can be as hands-on as they choose. If they don’t want to be hands-on, we’ll handle it for them through our highly skilled and focused Technical Service Management group.”
How do Windstream customers like VMware SD-WAN?
When asked how Windstream customers feel about VMware SD-WAN, Frane said, “They love it. Period. We get a lot of really great feedback. We’ve been involved in many, many SD-WAN bake-offs and have won more than our fair share of those engagements with VMware.”
Windstream has thousands of customers with tens of thousands of VMware SD-WAN sites deployed. “We have customers with a handful of locations and one or two access types at each location, and we have customers with thousands of locations and multiple access types at each location,” said Frane. “VMware, in addition to being the marquee technology out there, has a variety of deployment options that help us address a wide range of customer demands.”
VMware SD-WAN is integrated into Windstream’s nationwide Cloud Core™ network, which provides optimized voice services and integrated security. The WE Connect customer portal provides a single pane of glass for all Windstream services, from network status all the way down to individual tickets and orders – in a browser or a mobile app for accessibility.
“We absolutely chose the right provider when we partnered with VeloCloud early on,” said Frane. “Our customers are very happy with the capability of the technology itself, and we’ve done a tremendous amount to improve that overall solution experience for the end user.”
Business continuity for the win
When Windstream bought Earthlink in 2017, a driving factor for the merger was that both companies had already invested in SD-WAN technology, and both saw its potential. Frane had already launched SD-WAN at Earthlink, then he and his team had the opportunity to launch it again at Windstream. Both Earthlink and Windstream “independently chose VeloCloud as the best technology platform” before VMware acquired VeloCloud, said Frane. Windstream and VMware recently celebrated three years of partnership, using VMware SD-WAN to help customers take advantage of transformative cloud-based communications services.
Frane cites that continuity as one of the reasons the partnership has been so successful. Windstream, unlike many who use a hosted model for SD-WAN services, has a non-hosted model with VMware SD-WAN Gateways and the VMware SD-WAN Orchestrator deployed in Windstream’s Cloud Core network. “Our main VMware sales engineer and account leadership has been with us since the beginning,” said Frane. “That level of continuity has been key to our success because it helps both companies to see around the corners and anticipate some of the challenges that a non-hosted model presents. VMware team members can understand the specifics of our network, and they’re willing to dig in to understand the situation.”
The future of SD-WAN
SD-WAN started as a solution for branch offices, but it is spreading its wings in two directions: into the cloud and closer to the edge as more people work at home. “I think of network infrastructure as a continuum,” said Frane. “It starts with the end user and it ends with the application, and anything in the middle is infrastructure. SD-WAN really hits the heart of that infrastructure today. It’s the connectivity between the branch and the network. From the network you get to the cloud, the multi-cloud environment and the SaaS providers. SD-WAN is going to evolve to become much more cloud native.” With this shift, services such as Windstream’s Cloud Core network with its single-pane-of-glass visibility will become more important to gain visibility and control into the LAN and into the cloud.
SD-WAN is also pushing into endpoints as more power users work from home, such as radiologists sending bandwidth-heavy scans or call center workers who can’t afford dropped calls or jitter in the middle of a conversation. “The ability to shift SD-WAN to specific end users will be important as well, because many companies will no longer have the majority of their employees at one physical location,” said Frane.
Meet the executive
Mike Frane didn’t grow up dreaming of computer networks. In fact, his degree from the University of Minnesota was in genetics and developmental biology. “Very telecom specific,” he joked. “I did some research at the Institute for Human Genetics, which was super fun and interesting, but I realized that working in a lab was really not my cup of tea, so I moved into the technology space.”
After a seven-year stint with Pacific LightNet and NextNet Investments in Hawaii, Frane moved to Portland, Oregon, and joined EarthLink, which was then acquired by Windstream. “At Windstream Enterprise we have a voice product group and we have an everything else product group. I’m responsible for the everything else group,” which includes SD-WAN, MPLS, Internet, LAN services, security and compliance, cloud and hybrid networks, on-net fiber, fixed wireless and transport and wavelength services. “I’ve been in the industry for about 19 years,” said Frane. “All told, about 11 of those years were with EarthLink and Windstream. And it’s been a tremendous ride, an incredible experience, and opportunity for which I am tremendously grateful.”
Learn more about the partnership
Watch this 90-second Windstream video to learn more about the partnership between VMware and Windstream Enterprise.
Learn more about VMware SD-WAN solutions on our website.
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