Carriers Join the Customer Portal War

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-08-20

A portal war is brewing. Carriers that want to sell managed and hosting services to business customers buying such mundane connectivity as frame relay see a competitive edge in new reporting and monitoring tools.

Teleglobe today plans to announce it will deploy Visual Networks Technologies Visual eWatcher, a tool that will offer customers a view into Teleglobes hosted, managed and, eventually, network services. The deal positions Teleglobe for head-to-head competition with the likes of managed service giants Digex and Loudcloud.

"The customer-specific portal is a key differentiator for us at this point in time," says Steve Wade, director of Teleglobes Internet data center operations. "Customers ability to see performance of their site in real-time or near real-time without intervention from customer service reps or technical folks has a number of strategic advantages. From the providers perspective, its relatively cheap. From the customers perspective, it means they can independently check [on service-level agreements], do capacity management and check performance of their Internet service providers."

Teleglobe plans to get all this functionality from Visual eWatcher. EWatcher has special appeal because Visual Networks is already entrenched in monitoring Asynchronous Transfer Mode and frame relay networks for large carriers with its Visual UpTime and Visual IP InSight products. Adding the Web hosting element — and offering a portal view of their services — would potentially give customers the ability to view all Visual-monitored elements of the network. Teleglobe plans to add network monitoring to a customer portal in the near future, Wade says.

Analysts who track emerging carrier portals say that while reporting and monitoring is an important first step, a company would have a deadly competitive weapon if it added service provisioning. They also say that managed service companies, like Loudcloud, appear to have the edge in the battle. In his recent report, Gaining More Control: Superior Customer Portals, Tier 1 Research President Andrew Schroepfer ranked Loudclouds portal as No. 1 because it allows customers to provision services.

"The biggest hurdle for carriers like Teleglobe would be to get configuration management capability into a portal," Schroepfer says. "The way you can see who is leading there is by seeing who has a change management feature, which means if you want to upload a new set of code, you upload it through the Web. The MSP [managed service provider] gets to see it and send you an approval to change it through the Web."

True, but thats still a far cry from the on-demand bandwidth or server capacity features that potentially could be sold through a customer portal. "We are six months to a year away from such automation as an industry," Wade says.

Most likely, the carriers will find such added functionality in partnership deals between the makers of monitoring and reporting software and developers of provisioning software.

"We are not looking to become a provisioning company," says Jay Ennis, Visual Networks co-founder and director of product management. "We see ourselves becoming more of a platform integrator."

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