Although you don’t have to forget what you already know about EarthLink, you will have to adjust your thinking a bit. Today, EarthLink is an IT services, network, and communications provider that serves more than a million consumers, with more than 150,000 business customers spread throughout the United States. Cloud computing is the wave of the future, and the executives at EarthLink know that and they want to get their own share of that innovative, ever-changing pie.
Sramana Mitra: Hi, Mike. Let’s start with a bit of context about EarthLink and your activities in the cloud.
Mike Toplisek: That sounds great. EarthLink today still has a healthy, if declining, consumer business with one million consumer customers. But we have 150,000 business customers today through the acquisition of a handful of companies. We also have bought capabilities through five small companies to bring cloud and virtualized IT services, help desk services to these 150,000 largely small and mid-size business customers.
SM: Could you define those 150,000 small- and medium-business customers for me? What kind of sizes are you talking about?
MT: In large part, they would fit into the range of five employees up to 1,000 employees. Probably 95% of that customer base fits in that size. We do, of course, have Fortune 500 customers, and we have much larger businesses. But that’s where most of them fit.
SM: What are you offering to these 150,000 customers? Let’s go through the portfolio of offerings to get to where the business has evolved. Readers will be familiar with EarthLink of the past, which is a consumer ISP service, but this seems like a different EarthLink.
MT: This is a different EarthLink. The EarthLink of the past still exists. As I mentioned, we have one million consumer customers. The EarthLink of the past has deep roots, if you think about it, in virtualization and concerns about security. But of the 150,000 business customers, we’re providing voice and data services for most of them, Internet services for their businesses. Some of them receive hosted voice services. Some of them have traditional land line voice services. Those with multiple locations, we provide them with wide area networks, largely multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) networks.
With the portfolio that we bring today, we’re bringing cloud computing to these same customers. We are bringing what we call tech care, which is tier one help desk support. They don’t have to worry when their employees lock themselves out of their computers or they’re having trouble with hardware. We’ll take those first calls off their hands. We’ll also do managed email. We offer managed security services and asset management. If they like, we’ll manage all of the physical assets for them, manage contracts, software updates, and so on.
SM: What does it cost for a small business to access this service?
MT: It varies based on their needs and just how small the business is.
SM: Let me rephrase the question. Whom are you competing with?
MT: That’s a great question, and it’s a changing question all the time. It depends on what the customer needs. If a customer is only looking for voice and Internet services, we’re competing with AT&T and Verizon, as well as a lot of the cable companies and regional service providers, like Wind Stream or SeeBeyond. If a company would like cloud computing services or a virtual environment, then we also compete with Rackspace, Soft Layer, and some low-end Amazon. But we’re moving quickly toward the ability to provide cloud computing services, to host email services, provide dedicated Internet access and voice services, a hosted PBX or hosted voice services and provide all of that on one bill with one contact number for service. We’d like to provide all of that in one control panel that we call MyLink on the customer premises so that they can place a trouble ticket if there is one to be placed, chat with one of our service reps, and have one number to call. That separates us from a lot of the competition, if not all of the competition.
SM: So, while you compete with the Grasshoppers and the cloud PBX services, what you’re providing is a larger portfolio of services on one bill.
MT: That’s exactly right. And it’s wrapped with one great customer experience, again, starting with the MyLink control panel. It’s always evolving, but the aim is to allow customers to control their services, monitor their services, look at the flow of their calls. If they do a marketing campaign, for example, with a toll-free number, they can see how the calls are coming in, where they’re going. They can look at utilization of their services in the cloud. It’s really exciting.