It’s a phrase you’re hearing a lot: Digital transformation is consuming the industry. In our increasingly connected economy, enterprise IT departments are tasked with doing more with less. They need to quickly evolve away from their legacy networks and toward a more cost-effective, productive, and innovative future. To this end, Comcast Business has made significant investments in its infrastructure, becoming a nationwide, Gig speed, best-last-mile network that serves 4 million businesses today.
According to Jody Hagemann, who is developing the Comcast Business ActiveCore platform (starting with an SD-WAN product offering), the value that Comcast Business brings to the software defined networking (SDN) market today is the marriage between Comcast’s network and its SDN capabilities. We sat down with Hagemann to discuss her views about today’s market, the challenges that IT managers face today, and the ActiveCore platform’s features and differentiators.
SDxCentral: You’ve been in the telecommunications industry for over 20 years and have a ton of experience working on new products and new feature launches. Looking at today’s market, what are you excited about?
Jody Hagemann: My excitement about this market is twofold. The historically stagnant telecom market has put Comcast in a very favorable position when it comes to SDN innovation. We are better positioned than most other incumbents because we’re unconflicted when it comes to legacy networking technologies such as MPLS, T1 and DSL lines. Our strategy of marrying SDN capabilities to the best last-mile fiber rich network in the United States resonates with business customers and prospects, and as a result we are considered a long-term strategic networking partner.
The second thing that’s really exciting today is the power of software to provide predictive networking analytics to customers in a way that they choose to consume them. If I can look at my mobile app and see that my site is impaired but not yet hard-down, as an IT manager I can take action to prevent a full-blown outage. If I can also see VPN usage trends over time, over multiple links, and over multiple carriers, and I can get a full network picture—that’s really powerful.
SDxCentral: What are the big challenges you see enterprise IT managers and directors facing today?
The biggest challenge I’ve seen—and at this point I’ve gone on hundreds of customer appointments—is that IT managers need completely resilient networks that offer 100 percent uptime for applications for business continuity. Legacy networks today are incapable of handling the modern digital requirement for cloud traffic, and bandwidth demand is frankly skyrocketing, particularly when it comes to video. IT managers want to reduce network complexity, and they want to work with simplified WAN management tools. Also, organizations on the whole are looking to reduce burden on their in-house IT staff any way they can.
SDxCentral: Comcast Business launched its ActiveCore SDN platform in 2017, with SD-WAN as its first VNF. You’re now tasked with expanding that offering. Can you tell me a bit about ActiveCore and what makes it stand out today?
Our approach to the ActiveCore platform makes it unique in the SDN space in terms of what it offers and also the ease it brings to the customer experience. SD-WAN is the first VNF on the platform, and that allows for the consolidation of network functions such as SDN, virtualized routing, firewall—that’s all available over the top of Comcast or any U.S. provider’s connectivity. Our SD-WAN can live alongside with or augment your existing MPLS network in hybrid mode.
Wrapped around all of this—and married to our digital experience capabilities—are our portal, our mobile app, and even Alexa skills. We believe we’re first to market with these kinds of capabilities—certainly in the mobile app space—and that allows us to bring total network visibility and management to the IT manager instead of the other way around. We’re bringing the network to the IT manager as opposed to them going to hunt for it. This is revolutionary when it comes to network management capabilities.
SDxCentral: Tell me more about the mobile app and the Alexa skills!
We’re very proud of the mobile app, which basically puts your network in the palm of your hands. You get a dashboard where you can see all of your sites in a network map. You can see sites up, sites down, sites impaired, latency, packet loss, jitter between sites—you carry all that functionality around in your pocket, and you can opt in for notifications if sites are up or down. This goes back to that concept of proactively bringing the network to you as opposed to being an IT manager in reactive mode. The more digital experience capabilities we can offer, the better equipped you are to control your network. You can best plan for your network, prevent outages, and have that 100 percent uptime resilience—all those tools in the palm of your hand. We consider the mobile app a game changer and extremely unique in the market, especially when it comes to SDN and SD-WAN.
And Alexa skills! Customers can now set up an ActiveCore Alexa skill that says, “ActiveCore, tell me how my network is doing,” and Alexa will say, “You’ve got two sites up and two sites down, would you like me to tell you more about those two sites?” Again, it’s about leveraging the power of innovation with an eye towards to the customer experience, to bring your network to you.
SDxCentral: ActiveCore is a hosted solution, correct? How does that improve on the traditional on-premises hardware/software solution?
Yes, ActiveCore is a carrier-based SDN platform, and with that comes the comforts of network resilience, strengthening the SDN components that live within the Comcast network. We maintain the branch office boxes that sit at the locations, we push new code to them, we handle all sorts of network upgrades—all of that. So, ActiveCore is considered a co-managed solution in which we bring the best of Comcast network to customers and then we give features and functionalities that empower customers to manage their network in real time, and that comes in the form of the digital experiences we’ve been talking about.
SDxCentral: How do you see Comcast Business ActiveCore evolving over the next few years?
Our goal is for ActiveCore to be an extensible, flexible platform that continues to incorporate best-of-breed vendors, comprising a total solution for customer networks. So, looking toward the future, what are we going to have to accommodate? That would include constant evolution of security, unified communication needs, multi-cloud strategies that customers already have, lots of interest in granular end-user management of what people are doing with their applications at their branch offices. And specifically, people are looking to bring more devices onto the network that need to be secured and managed, and those are in the form of Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices.
And we’re simply looking forward to further improving the customer experience in terms of overall networking capabilities. Comcast is in the business of providing solutions to customer problems—that’s the essence of our goal. As the market changes, as networks change, as technology evolves, we’re always going to have to be innovative in the way we approach solving customer problems.
SDxCentral: Any final thoughts?
We talk a lot at Comcast about not only what we’re doing from a technology perspective, and how important that is, but also what is the human element behind technology and what we’re doing. What does success look like for emerging technologies at Comcast?
It’s extraordinarily important that the customer always has a seat at our table. We’re always thinking with an eye toward what the customer needs and wants, and how we accommodate them today and in the future. Our UI/UX team spends a tremendous amount of time looking at and improving our digital experience through the customer lens. IT managers need to be able to flexibly manage their network from the palm of their hands while they’re at their kids’ baseball games. The human element behind all this technology is really the software-defined experience that we’re striving for at Comcast Business.