Tony Romo, Windstream and the Cloud

John SiefertRemember that game one of these things is not like the other”? Realizing that it makes sense for Windstream to be in the cloud game, then I would guess you would wonder why Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is in the headline. Well, you are not alone; I wondered the same as I noted the athlete on the agenda for  the Windstream’s Little Rock Data Center Grand Opening celebrations and tour on April 19.  Romo was one of several big names that showed up to support and congratulate Windstream on the launch of its brand-new, cloud-centric data center, along with Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, local TV news crews, Windstream executives, customers and channel partners. 

Governor Beebe talked about the impact that Windstream has had on the local Little Rock economy, driving new job creation and positioning the states capital as a technology hub. When Romo hit the stage, he drew comparisons to the role of the data center enabling disaster-recovery solutions for enterprises to the role he and his teammates play on the football field often recovering from disasters like interceptions and sacks. The analogy drew a good chuckle from the crowd who knew Romo understood IT and telecom? 

In his remarks, Windstream President and CEO Jeff Gardner shared his company’s commitment to Little Rock and to the new innovations the data center would offer customers specifically, cloud-based services for sale through both direct and indirect channels.  He also mentioned the growth strategies Windstream has put in place to improve the financial performance of the company, ensuring  customers are partnering with a viable company that is committed to their business for the long term.

Christopher Kip” Turco, senior vice president for data center operations, then took the stage and stressed a bit more on the architecture of the data center and the business value it will enable for Windstream’s customers.  He explained  that the data center will offer the highest levels of in-depth security and  future-proofing to scale as customers’ businesses grow.  From a channel perspective, this speaks aggressively to the discussions agents and VARs are now having with their customers about data privacy and scalability.

On the tour of the new data center, I was  joined by Windstream Channel Chief Dan Sterling, vice president of channel sales, as well as a few of his area vice presidents, and Rob Carter, director of product marketing for managed hosting and cloud services.  As we walked through the impressive, state-of- the- art data center, Carter and I discussed the role of the cloud in todays market for Windstream customers, comparing the ambiguity of the cloud for end-user customers and the channel to past telecom and IT movements like ATM, client-server computing and more.  We also talked about the uncertainty that goes along with the massive degree of hype associated with these movements where everyone in the market is saying they play in the space, but the channel and the end-customers are left confused about how and why these solutions can make a difference for their businesses.

Carter, Sterling and I continued the tour noting the impressive high-end storage systems, tier one networking equipment, UPS systems and incredible room to scale discussing the common myth that all clouds are created equal.”  Each cloud offering is, in fact, unique and based on the architecture of the data center(s) enabling them something most channel and IT professionals are just starting to get their arms around.  For example, as multiple companies and providers are positioning their services as cloud” based, many have not outlined the architecture behind their cloud offering, but have instead levered the marketing buzz around the term. 

Carter explained that in addition to the infrastructure Windstream built, its NOC  is monitored 24/7 to ensure uptime of apps and systems. This is a very important point as the operations center behind the cloud is  key to ensuring the proper performance and security behind customers’ business-critical applications.

Interestingly, it is not often that you get to meet a CFO who can talk the realities of the technology behind the business; I got that rare experience in speaking with Tony Thomas while at the event.  I mentioned to Thomas that Windstream made some ambitious moves over the last year to position the company for further scale.  He articulately outlined how the internal innovation and myriad acquisitions the company has made have both expanded the footprint of the company to 48 states, while  also expanding the sales channel to envelop the VAR and telecom agent community under Sterlings leadership.

So what does this mean for the channel that Windstream serves?  I got a chance to catch up a little bit with John Bramlett of Brite Communications, a local authorized partner of Windstream located in North Little Rock.  Bramlett positioned his company modestly; however, Shane Hall, Windstream channel manager, and Michelle Kadlacek, area vice president for business channel sales, were quick to point out that Brite is a core channel partner in the area.  Bramlett briefly discussed the needs of his customers and the strong relationship with Windstream that enables his business growth.

For channel partners exploring the cloud space, and looking to evolve their offerings for customers whether they grew up on the telecom or IT side should take advantage of the investments Windstream is making in its services and infrastructure around the cloud space.  Though there is some significant training necessary to learn many of the cloud options offered by Windstream and others, this is a new frontier of revenue and customer opportunities for the channel, and those that gravitate to leaders in the space over the coming year will be the first to market with money-saving and money-making options for their customers.

For example, as small and medium businesses look to lever the cloud for their business systems, the conversation that folks like Bramlett and other channel partners will be engaging in will continue to evolve and scale as they sell services that literally define business processes for their customers.  Taking this a step further, those services will be financed differently than on-premises IT solutions as they have the potential to move from capital expenses to operational expenses with monthly service fees.  Another key aspect is the on-demand, “use what you need” scenario this offers the end-customers, making sure they are not overpaying for services, infrastructure or applications they dont need a big value for the channel partner that brings these solutions to the end-customer.

And, heck, if Tony Romo is now understanding disaster recovery at least in the context of the football field that should tell all of us that this stuff is becoming more and more commonplace in the vernacular of the broader market and world.  As channel partners VARs and agents this seems to be a great opportunity to lead that process and offer some clarity and perspective on what services from Windstream and others can mean to your customers and their business.

John Siefert is CEO of


, publisher of Billing & OSS World, Channel Partners and V2M.

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