DENVER (05/01/2000) - Bolstering its image as a carrier unshackled by legacy systems, Qwest Communications International Inc. this week for the first time will present users a unified set of Web-based tools to manage nearly all their telecom services.
Qwest today will unveil Qwest Control 4.0, labeling it the industry's first comprehensive multiservice Web-based management platform. It lets users place orders, initiate trouble tickets and perform basic network reconfiguration from a single dial-up interface for voice, data and Internet services.
Qwest Control 4.0 covers Qwest's frame relay, ATM, dedicated Internet access, Web hosting and toll-free services. It also manages Qwest's traditional circuit-switched enterprise voice service, called Qwest VNS.
Users simply dial in to a server cluster in one of Qwest's network operations centers, click on the type of voice or data service they're dealing with at the moment, and choose options such as configuration, trouble management and network-performance statistics.
Qwest officials concede that Qwest Control does not have every feature a customer might want. For example, although it provides extensive network performance information for frame relay, ATM and dedicated Internet access, the Web-hosting module does not provide real-time information on page views. And so far Qwest's IP virtual private network (VPN) service is not included in the Qwest Control platform. That's partly because Qwest has yet to roll out a VPN.
It only offers customer premises equipment-based dedicated links using Nokia Corp.'s VPN appliances with Check Point firewall software, and is still working on a dial-up alternative with network-based security.
But analysts applauded the range of services that Qwest is making available on a single platform, since the Big 3 long-distance carriers have rolled out Web-based management tools separately for voice, data and Internet services.
"I think this is a phenomenal announcement," says Tom Jenkins, a director of analysis at consulting firm TeleChoice. "I guarantee you that no one else in the marketplace has this."
The roots of Qwest Control go back to Qwest's 1998 acquisition of long-distance carrier LCI International. LCI scored points with the 1997 introduction of LCI Authority, one of the first networkmanagement systems to let users change the level of reserved bandwidth on their frame relay circuits - called committed information rate - on the fly.
The platform was quietly renamed Qwest Control and given the 3.0 designation last year when Internet access and Qwest VNS services were added. The new version adds management of ATM, Web hosting and toll-free services, and introduces electronic billing.
The key to the various Qwest Control releases is a unified customer-management database running on Oracle 8, says Rick Weston, Qwest's senior vice president of product development. Pulling that kind of information together from disparate switching and back-office systems has been a big challenge for older carriers with older systems.
"This does show that an emerging provider has an advantage," Jenkins says.
"Some of the other carriers have been much more concerned with getting their internal services from their various mergers talking to each other than in getting them talking to the customer."
Qwest says users can verify their service-level agreements against statistics presented on new and existing versions of Qwest Control. However, many of the statistics only cover the Qwest network and not the local loop. In addition, latency - or average network delay - figures are overall Qwest figures and not specific to each customer's WAN or application, says Mack Greene, Qwest vice president of data product management.
As with many carriers, some of the network reconfiguration options are more order-entry than real-time applications. Version 5.0, which may come out later this year, is expected to include support for IP VPNs, real-time configuration for more types of services and deeper Web hosting statistics.