Rene Dufrene, AT&T Business Solutions: Ahead in the cloud

17 June 2014 |

Has AT&T developed a solution that addresses the barriers to cloud adoption without compromising on any of the dynamic values of the cloud? Capacity talks to Rene Dufrene, AVP of network-enabled cloud at AT&T Business Solutions, to find out.

AT&T has experienced a major breakthrough with its cloud offering in the last 12 months. Officially launching its NetBond solution in 2013, the US giant went on to sign an innovative partnership with data centre firm Equinix earlier this year.

All of which has been music to the ears of cloud enthusiast Rene Dufrene, AVP of network-enabled cloud at AT&T Business Solutions.

“I truly enjoy leading a team and delivering innovative solutions to our clients,” he says.

Dufrene is a great believer of getting the “maximum output” from the cloud. While cloud services can bring clear benefits to businesses, such as streamlined processes and improved accessibility, he explains that AT&T wanted to address the concerns that remain associated with the technology through a “truly innovative” solution.

“We did our research, as well as leveraged third-party research, to look at the concerns that customers were having with the cloud,” he says. “Many of those came down to security, performance and flexibility, and we thought that by creating NetBond we could really address these barriers to cloud adoption.”

In a nutshell, NetBond aims to connect a customer’s VPN to any AT&T partner cloud service. By combining a customer’s MPLS VPN with the cloud service, the service can simply appear as another node on the customer’s network.

Dufrene emphasises the company’s focus on the security aspect of its service which is a deliberately “off-net” solution.

“Most clouds are accessed over the internet today,” he says. “This is an ‘off-net’ solution and some of the additional value is that it is very flexible and it is very easy to provision the service.” NetBond therefore allows existing AT&T customers to access the AT&T cloud through their VPN, without even having to connect to the public internet.

Another factor AT&T wanted to address was flexibility and ease of use, which is why it included a pay-as-you-go model: “So let’s say at certain points in time you need more network, [with NetBond] you can get that without really doing anything,” he adds. “You just pay for the network service you use.”

It was critical that the company’s offering reflected the dynamic values of the cloud.

“We think this secure and flexible access is going to change the way the market looks at cloud and hopefully encourage more people to migrate to cloud services,” he says.

Competitors have also moved to enhance the security of their cloud services, but he is confident AT&T’s approach is unique.

“We are seeing a trend in the market that this private connectivity to cloud is needed,” he suggests. “Others are doing it too, but we think we have a differentiated approach.”

Leadership in the cloud
Dufrene’s passion for cloud is equalled only by his love of teamwork.

“I try to really empower my team to give them all a chance to develop, providing opportunities to excel and attain executive exposure for themselves,” he explains. “I also try to lead by example and – most importantly – ensure my team has a positive attitude and a very open line of communication.”

An industry veteran, Dufrene brings experience from companies such as E-Systems (which was acquired by L-3 Communications in 1995), Nortel and EMC.

Managing a team of 30 cloud specialists at AT&T’s corporate headquarters in Dallas, Dufrene continues to enjoy a career right at the very forefront of telecoms technology.

“I truly enjoy leading a team and delivering innovative solutions to our clients,” he says, adding that AT&T’s company culture is based on the foundations of innovation, dedication and high performance. “I feel my style fits very well into the collaborative culture of AT&T,” he adds.

The collaborative culture at AT&T is not only internal. Earlier this year, the company's deal with Equinix saw a select number of Equinix data centres embedded with AT&T NetBond.

AT&T sees Equinix as a cloud hub, sitting at the intersection of cloud service providers, network service providers and enterprise customers, and the partnership is designed to help AT&T grow its NetBond ecosystem through agreements with third-party providers.

“Some of these providers have their platforms in Equinix, and [Equinix] is an industry leader in that space,” he says. “So it made sense for us to develop our relationship and do that expansion in locations that were convenient for those cloud service providers.”

Building on the success of this relationship, he suggests he is seeing an increase in demand for similar relationships with cloud service providers worldwide. “There is a possibility that we will do further relationships like this down the road,” he says.

A cloudy forecast
With his working schedule often a whirlwind of activity, Dufrene’s home-life has an entirely different focus. “My life outside of work is focussed on spending time with my family,” he says.

He enjoys exercising and often plays doubles tennis with his wife. But while he may be a leader in the field of cloud, his sporting career has not quite reached such dazzling heights: “I have to play with a sense of humour,” he jokes.

Back in the office, he is more confident about the growing demand for cloud services, which after significant uptake in the US is now being adopted by other regions. AT&T initially launched NetBond in North America, but has since extended its offering to EMEA.

“We are seeing demand across the board and we are even assessing opportunities for us to expand our reach in Asia-Pacific,” he says.

Through AT&T’s extensive international reach, Dufrene eventually expects the service to become truly global. As part of his role at AT&T, he is also involved in the company’s growth platforms organisation. His role also sees him play a key part in AT&T’s “growth platforms”, which is dedicated to investing in new business opportunities. He believes there are plenty more out there for the industry.

“I love what I do and I hope to do this for as long as possible,” he says. “I see myself remaining in the industry and I think we have great potential here, leveraging our global network, mobility solutions and cloud security, as well as other assets.”