It's a tale of two cultures blending into one now that CenturyLink's $34 billion deal to buy Level 3 has wrapped up, but CenturyLink EVP and CTO Aamir Hussain said the synergies outweigh any large cultural differences.
In part two of this Telco Transformation Q&A -- which was edited for clarity and length -- Hussain also spoke about the need to become more agile and nimble. In the first installment, Hussain talked about the integration of the two companies' SDN and NFV platforms. (See CenturyLink's CTO Discusses Integration With Level 3.)
The new CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) counts 52,500 global employees across more than 60 countries, all of which is a far cry from its roots as a family-operated business in Louisiana prior to becoming incorporated in 1968.
Telco Transformation: From an engineering perspective, can you talk about the cultural challenges of blending Level 3 and CenturyLink's workforces together?
Aamir Hussain: You know, as we work closely with Level 3, it becomes very clear to me that we have very similar cultures. Now, obviously, that is probably not true for every location, but it is from a macro perspective. We had an outside company come in and look at our culture and then ask a whole bunch of questions to a bunch of employees and then give us the results. It shows that we have a perfect match. The cultures are very much more alike than different. In parts of legacy CenturyLink, we do have a mentality where we take a long time to deliver stuff, and we just have got to get more nimble. With the skills that we now have, I think we'll get much more nimble and agile. So I think it's a good combination of two cultures that are going to come together. But as you know, these things take time.
TT: Last time we talked about the integration of the SDN and NFV platforms. What about integration between the two networks?
AH: Even before the deal closed, we started building wholesale NNIs [network-to-network interfaces] between each other. Our network within the next, I'd say, 90 or so days, will be completely interconnected.
From a customer perspective, the workflow should be seamless. If a customer is sitting on our legacy SDN network, and they happen to have an endpoint in a cloud data center that is connected to one of Level 3's Direct Connect [cloud service], those packages should flow seamlessly. At the same time, the virtual functions that we have within the CenturyLink domain -- as long as those virtual functions are connected to our MPLS network, they could be offered to any customer regardless of where they originate or terminate on each network.
From a Level 3 perspective, at the end of the day it's all about the customers. The customers who are on the legacy Level 3 network will be able to get access to all of the VNFs that we'll have on the CenturyLink site.
TT: Does this currently include Level 3's overseas customers?
AH: We have not really extended our SDN networking overseas. We will test a few things in three or four countries. When that's available, the answer is yes.
TT: Level 3 has done a lot with cloud-based services and moving to cloud-native architectures. How do those fit in with CenturyLink?
AH: Without giving away all of the secret sauce, yes, we are both moving in that direction. We're coming in from cloud and data centers; they're coming in from network, and it's a perfect marriage from both sides. We are now able to take a customer workload and move that to Level 3 facilities -- which are connected directly to our cloud providers -- seamlessly. That can happen because now we have the tools such as cloud access management and automated cross-connect. We now will connect that to a Level 3 Direct Connect network. Once we have that, the problem will be solved for our in-state customer architecture where our customers already go. More companies are moving in this direction now. We both have done work, and the good thing is we have worked on two different sites. Now we've got to make sure that these sites merge. So that says yes, they are very complementary to each other, and it's good for our customers.
TT: Will this merger lead to more as-a-service offerings from the new CenturyLink?
AH: I think so. If we believe that the network is getting virtualized, and it's going in the cloud, this deal gives a lot more power to us and to our customers to be able to use both networks and the tools that we have built to provide more and more agile as-service-type offerings.
But at the end of the day, we are a pure networking company. For us, it's all about providing secure network connections regardless of how our customers want to consume them. We'll do both for customers -- whether they just want to use a virtual function or customers who want a network-based function -- now that we are in a position to provide more managed services on top of our combined network.
TT: Any final thoughts on the merger?
AH: I think I will end with a couple of closing thoughts. One, the vast reach of our network makes us the number two enterprise company in the world, and with that we have to scale to be very competitive. We can now do things that we were probably not able to do individually as a standalone company in the past.
The second thing is that having 450,000 route miles of fiber internationally, over 700,000 miles of miles of fiber locally and 100,000 fiber-enabled buildings really puts us in a very, very good situation to provide focused, orchestrated services to our customers, may that be a small business or may that be a large customer. Even the local consumer footprint will benefit, because this brings a lot more fiber.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation