Managed services are emerging as an increasingly popular approach to addressing IT complexity. By outsourcing day-to-day IT management and technical support requirements, businesses solve for many IT staff challenges, accessing specialist skills that are scarce in the marketplace while reducing costs for full time employees, and potentially, operating budgets. Other advantages that are driving use of managed services include proactive troubleshooting, faster incident response time, predictable spending and vendor management – benefits that will deliver more or less impact depending on provider capabilities and the user’s IT needs. Technology areas that have become more complicated are especially good candidates for managed services: networking, for example, is under pressure from growing traffic volumes, the introduction of new data formats/media and business insistence on multi-cloud, mobile, and even IoT readiness. According to a MarketsandMarkets forecast, the global market for managed network services is expected to reach a CAGR of 9 percent form 2016 to 20121, healthy growth that reflects the growing appeal of outsourcing to simplify network management needs.
To capture this wave, CenturyLink created its Managed Enterprise portfolio four years back. According to Joe Gorecki, product manager for CenturyLink Managed Services and Business Bundles, this services offering draws on expertise the company developed through 20 years of experience delivering managed network services. Early examples would include managed voice services – such as Managed IPC (interprocess communications) that CenturyLink delivered for Cisco with the help of third-party providers. With launch of Managed Enterprise, the company brought network services back in house, leveraging internal operating staff to achieve the certifications necessary for the delivery of enterprise class services. “It’s ITIL v. 3, and we have achieved HIPPA and PCI compliance. It’s a complaint NOC, which is a more configurable, specialized NOC geared towards the enterprise and above,” Gorecki added. Under this net NOC umbrella, CenturyLink manages three things: data, including LAN, WAN and wireless LAN, including the underlying networks; voice, including ACS (advanced communications services) and broad soft switching; and security, including firewalls. Gorecki estimates that the company now manages two to three times the number of devices it did when the service was introduced.
Linked to this first activity (the ‘data’ portfolio) was a distinct offering that CenturyLink called “managed WiFi” – managed services established two years ago for the Cisco Meraki WiFi system. This June, the company once again transitioned its services, widening its scope to cover services for a broader Meraki solution set which now includes security cameras, SD-WAN, phones and mobility management, in addition to the more ubiquitous WiFi setup composed of security appliance, switch and access points. CenturyLink Managed Enterprise with Cisco Meraki allows the company to build bundled solutions that can address more diverse demand, while building on the global Cisco Meraki brand. According to Gorecki, the new offering is well aligned with CenturyLink processes: “Meraki does routing, security and data, WiFi, LAN to LAN and added solutions. We wanted to use this ITIL v. 3 NOC that we already had in place to monitor and manage the Meraki portal. So we took some resources and engineers that we had and were able to do the provisioning that we needed to do for onboarding new technologies, and we created a bundle to make it quick and easy [for customers to consume].” For the customer, the new service translates to remote provisioning and configuration via the CenturyLink NOC, physical install of all required hardware and cabling, and post-deployment hand off to day two support.
To support this onboarding, CenturyLink also handles all technology license requirements to offer customers a single point of vendor contact. Customers can pick and choose from available components at initial order time, or as needed. On the business management front, it also offers fixed monthly pricing for ongoing maintenance, monitoring, support and licensing fees. The company’s decision to build on Meraki was influenced in large part by the platform’s cloud capabilities: “that’s what we decided to standardize on because of the ease and simplicity [of cloud access], and because it gave us an opportunity to provide a single dashboard,” Gorecki explained, single pane of glass visibility into all Meraki devices. But if able to take advantage of Meraki’s cloud for remote access to technology, CenturyLink has developed a pricing model that is different from that of many on-demand cloud vendors. Basing its pricing on device-centric services, CenturyLink is able to deliver services at a more predictable cost, and hence enable better budgeting.
Gorecki attributes rapid growth in CenturyLink’s managed network services business to customer readiness to “offload, and have the company take care of the highways and the roads.” But he also stressed the importance of ITIL v. 3 – “opening table stakes to get into the door” in the managed services business” – to addressing customer concerns around standardization in provisioning processes. Other certifications have also nurtured growth: the company has been HIPPA compliant for two years, has just passed its PCI audit and its NOC operates under ITAR compliance, certifications that help CenturyLink to address specific network services markets in verticals such as healthcare, retail, state and local government and the US defense industry.
CenturyLink demonstrated some of its network management prowess at the recent Cisco Live! event in Las Vegas. Gorecki described management of the Cisco tradeshow network as a fairly routine network monitoring proposition (and the sixth time CenturyLink has had this contract) that the company has finetuned through multiple event-based engagements. If old hat, work in this environment shows the company’s ability to quickly scale management to multiple devices to address the connectivity needs of substantial audiences – Cisco Live! boasted 28,000 attendees, who placed a significant surge in demand on the network. Commenting on the WiFi connected to the network and the switching platform that rely on the pipes CenturyLink is providing, Gorecki noted: “with the amount of WiFi circuitry that’s going through here, it’s like we’re in a microwave.”