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Cox puts Entiera's head in the clouds

Sat, 02/28/2009 - 7:30pm
Jim Barthold, Contributing Editor

Cox reaches into IP toolbox to create a virtual network.

Entiera has its head in the clouds these days, thanks to Cox Communications. Entiera is relying on Cox's voice and data services and the Cox SONET network in Rhode Island, which means many of its operations are "located" in the IP cloud.

Entiera is one of Cox's first customers in the New England region, so the two companies felt their way together in this new space, determining what exact needs Entiera had and how Cox Business could handle them.

Entiera's head in the clouds

Entiera provides an on-demand marketing service bureau that allows customers to run data hygiene routines and household data, as well as access the Entiera Marketing Universe for prospect data and customer data overlay.

"Entiera is a software as a service (SaaS) marketing infrastructure, and everything we do is virtual, so companies would use the platform, which [itself] is in the cloud," said Jeff Wilhelm, a business technology consultant who has honchoed the Cox-Entiera relationship since the merger between Myrge Technologies, a Rhode Island start-up, and Minneapolis-based Entiera occurred in 2007.

The merger makes for some interesting dynamics. U.S. headquarters are in Minneapolis, where Entiera was originally based, and U.K. operations are in London, but in order to maintain a 24-hour schedule, development takes place in Denver and Thailand. The heart, soul, and probably brains of the operation are in the old Myrge zone in Rhode Island, split between a Wickford office and a Cox data center in Providence. Entiera spreads about 40 employees across all of its locations and connects many through the cloud on a 24-hour basis.

"We use a mix of IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) VPN (virtual private network) and SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) VPN, so all these remote users that are working from home, etc., connect into the Cox data center, which is the hub of operations in Providence," Wilhelm said. "We have document repositories, shared drives, active directory service."

Entiera is among a new breed of companies that have fully embraced the Internet, not just for their own business dealings, but for their company operations, as well. They have not, however, embraced the public Internet, emphasized Mark Scott, vice president of Cox Business New England.

"This is not an IP service like a Vonage or something that travels over the public Internet," he said. "It's private network IP, so it all stays within the Cox network until it goes out to the public switching network. It never touches the public Internet."

Cox Busines VoiceManager Services

That's putting quite a bit of faith into a cable company – although Cox will take great umbrage at being described as such, and will point out that Cox Business has been operating pretty well without any connection to Cox Cable – but it's just what the Atlanta-based MSO has been accomplishing with its business services unit, Scott said.

"Customers select us over our competition, not so much because of price, but because of the value proposition we're bringing to their business. We partner with them to identify the right feature set and integration of voice and data capabilities," he said.

In Entiera's case, that partnership includes an Ethernet-fed, co-location application with the Cox data center for backup and offline data storage. In the event of a system breakdown, the system kicks into an emergency backup mode to quickly reestablish the data connection and keep business flowing, not only within Entiera, but also out to its customers.

"We can re-route or establish new data solutions that they can get into, and then continue to have backup from their data switch [so they can] open up their operations quickly," Scott said.

Of course, the IP cloud comes with more mundane features, such as statewide four-digit dialing, multiple location ringing, call forwarding and other VoIP amenities that "allow them to better manage their communications service without having to buy an expensive PBX," Scott said.

So, while it appears that features and the increased reliability that IP brings to a business are big considerations now, price remains at the top of a shopping list when choosing an all-IP service.

"[IP] allows us, at a very low cost of entry, no hardware to buy, [the ability] to rollout a system that rivals Avaya, Panasonic, Nortel, Cisco Systems as far as the functionality a user would interface with," Wilhelm said. "They get voicemails through e-mail, call forwarding and follow-me, groups and extension dialing within the location. All these features you'd find on these $100,000 PBXs, Cox offers within the Cox cloud incredibly inexpensively."

The IP cloud is starting to produce more than a shower of cost savings and voice features; it's creating an environment where the actual telecommunications functions of a business – voice, data, and even video – will eventually blend into one stream.

"This really is a unique product in that it is the first step of full integration," Scott said. "This is the first step of a fully integrated world with data telecommunications. Over time, you're going to see the boundary line between voice and data converge, and at some point they're both going to be on the same platform."

That point hasn't yet arrived. While Cox gives Entiera a 10-megabit pipe to its Wickford location and 30 megs to the data center, the phone service splits off via traditional telephone interfaces. Phone, then, becomes a separate entity, so Entiera offices can be equipped with standard Ma Bell black phones.

Entiera also has access to Cox's national IP backbone to keep traffic off of the PSTN as long as possible before finally having to switch off in non-Cox franchise areas, such as Minneapolis and, of course, overseas.

The network also carries traffic out to customers, although not directly.

"Our customers are primarily companies that are using the on-demand marketing infrastructure for their marketing data needs," Wilhelm said. "By definition, you could say any customer that is accessing these services via Web browser would then have a tie into Entiera, although it would be a Web-based HDDBS (Heterogeneous Distributed Database System) tunnel," he said.

By using Cox's IP business offering, Entiera is in some ways practicing what it preaches to its customers, Wilhelm pointed out.

"Focus on what you're good at, and then let the companies with specific core competencies handle what they're good at," he said. "To that end, we have Cox VoiceManager as the product on the voice side, Cox data services to the offices, and the data center that the Entiera Insight product is hosted from is the Cox data center in Providence."

Entiera handles its customers; Cox handles its telecommunications needs.

"They're using our entire cloud," Scott said. "We're in a worldwide market today, so you have different conditions ... so you need to route to where your calls are going."

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