Keeping Cloud Services On Tap

March, 2012

How do providers of high availability cloud-based or hosted contact center services prevent failure and disaster from becoming loss of service?

This month we look at failover, one of the key pillars of delivering high availability cloud-based or hosted contact center services. In particular, how do you prevent failure and disaster from becoming loss of service? And what questions should users/ service providers ask of vendors such as ourselves?

We in the developed world are blessed with utilities on constant supply; clean water, electricity, an Internet connection. And we are surprised and outraged at the inconvenience caused when one of these systems is interrupted: no cup of tea, no light, no instant connectivity. Horrors!

For the call center, interruption of core cloud/ hosted services such as IP bandwidth, telephony, call control, etc, is more than inconvenience; it can mean bad customer service, loss of revenue and loss of reputation.

Although 100% uptime is the ideal, the challenge of real-time processing in the call center makes this impossible. Why? Read on.

Even apart from this, the reality is that without a Department-of-Defence-sized budget, the most users can expect is ultra-high uptime. Scheduled replacement, failure of hardware, network, power, voice carrier, etc, can all contribute.

From a software perspective, downtime is usually caused by some form of outage:

  • planned – If a software platform is not designed to be upgraded on the fly, upgrades can cost minutes, even hours; not good for a ‘high availability’ system.
  • unplanned – the result of a failure somewhere in the system; these can be foreseen e.g. lack of resources (memory, disk space, etc). With careful planning and appropriate system monitoring, this can be eliminated. Others can be unforeseen but are inevitable and can come on any scale, from individual component level (e.g. hard disk, network switch, media gateway) to major disasters (e.g. earthquake, tsunami)

The central question for any vendor/ service provider offering high availability is: how do you prevent failure and disaster from becoming loss of service?

The key is to eliminate ‘single point of failure’ by duplication/ replication of services, a.k.a. software redundancy. But this comes with its own challenges.

The ideal is that every service has a ‘hot standby’ – a secondary service that is constantly running and mirrors the state of the primary. On failure, all dependencies and resources are seamlessly switched over. This is the basis of the worldwide web, and other carrier networks. But while this works for many processes in the call center, it cannot work for real-time processing (e.g. conferencing/ recording of voice traffic, or dialer/ ACD pacing). Being real-time, the state of each changes too fast to make persisting to disk practical. So if a processing service fails, resources cannot simply be switched and normal service resumed. There will be some temporary degradation of service as current sessions end, and have to be re-established by the back-up system, or as the backup dialer service gets up to speed.

The alternative is ‘cold standby’. In this model, a copy of each service is kept on a separate system (maybe a VM, a different server, even on a different continent) ready to be brought into service when necessary.

But how do we know when this is necessary? For high availability, waiting for someone to notice a failure is not good enough. Action must be taken immediately and automatically. This requires a monitoring service continually asking surrounding services “Are you alive?” If the expected answer “Yes” does not come, a control service is also required to tell the secondary service to start. (Incidentally, each service must also have a back-up. As Juvenal asked: “Who watches the watchers?”)

Another challenge is that the primary will have been in a particular state when it failed. The secondary must be initialised using the same settings, including any security and licensing. This could come from a duplicate configuration file on the secondary server, or in the cloud. It must also be made ready, perhaps from an up-to-date ‘current status’ file.

Finally, all active resources and routing must be switched to the secondary.

After a smooth handover, what happens to the primary? If the cause of the failure was a transient glitch, auto-restart would be best, reprovisioning and reconnecting resources to bring itself back into service. If not, the IT department will be getting their hands dirty.

High availability for hosted/ cloud-based call center services cannot be taken for granted. Support for failover must be designed into the software at a deep level. It must be planned for and worked toward, so that service is as seamless as possible.

Next time you turn on the water tap, remember to count your blessings and thank the Romans for pioneering a water system with ultra-high availability.

What We Offer

Sytel Limited develops and supplies Softdial Contact Center® (SCC), offering multimedia, multichannel, fully blended cloud contact center solutions, for quick and easy deployment by partners offering CCaaS or enterprise users. All Sytel cloud components are secure, resilient and scale seamlessly from 10 agents to 10,000+, whether local, mobile or remote.

Flexible Contact Center Platform

Flexible Contact Center Platform

Softdial Contact Center™ - tightly integrated modules, designed to deliver at scale

Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS)

Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS)

Partners can run a functionally rich and flexible contact center stack in the cloud

Blended Media Desktop

Blended Media Desktop

Fully customisable, multi-channel, multi-session workspace

Work Anywhere

Work Anywhere

Browser-based tools, no software installation required

Cloud Or On-Premise, Multi-Tenant

Cloud Or On-Premise, Multi-Tenant

Scalable, resilient, secure, proven

Customise, Localise, White Label

Customise, Localise, White Label

Design all user interfaces to individual requirements

Integration Via APIs

Integration Via APIs

'Swap out' components and integrate with 3rd party apps

World Class Development

World Class Development

Continuous evolution pushing technical boundaries

Capabilities

Softdial Contact Center™ (SCC) is designed to be flexible, extensible and scalable, integrating with any legacy equipment, and meeting the most complex of requirements.

All Media Types

All Media Types

Voice, chat, email, social, etc - fully integrated and blended

Agent Multi-Tasking

Agent Multi-Tasking

Work with multiple live contact sessions of any media type

Dynamic Workforce Management

Dynamic Workforce Management

Automated, ‘best available’ decisions to manage agents and balance work load, across all media types

Predictive Dialing

Predictive Dialing

Best-of-breed performance under compliance

Optimised Inbound Routing

Optimised Inbound Routing

Smart rules and 'best-available' decisions to drive great customer service

Agent Scripts

Agent Scripts

Help agents achieve and maintain excellence

Voice and Screen Recording

Voice and Screen Recording

See and hear exactly how agents are interacting

Analytics and Data Feeds

Analytics and Data Feeds

Measure and evaluate performance at every level

IVR, Bots & Conversational AI

IVR, Bots & Conversational AI

Design effective automated flows or integrate with 3rd party providers

Customer Journey Tracking

Customer Journey Tracking

Stored customer contact history, to aid routing and add context to conversations

Modules

A complete suite of tools, with unique flexibility to extend and swap out modules to deliver a tailored contact center solution for any environment.

Softdial One™

Softdial One™

Highly flexible unified web UI for agents, supervisors and administrators

Softdial Scripter™

Softdial Scripter™

Create complex process flow scripts for agents, IVR, chatbots and other applications

Sytel AI Dialer™

Sytel AI Dialer™

Best-of-breed predictive dialing under any compliance rules

Softdial Pathfinder™

Softdial Pathfinder™

Precise routing rules for 'best available' connection

Softdial Media Server™

Softdial Media Server™

Core telephony functions to manage all inbound/ outbound SIP calls

Softdial Reporter™ 5

Softdial Reporter™ 5

Fully customisable performance stats, charts and reports, across all channels

Softdial Publisher™

Softdial Publisher™

Comprehensive data output to build your own reports

Softdial Recording Monitor™

Softdial Recording Monitor™

Audio and screen recording of agent activity to ensure the highest standards

Softdial Campaign Manager™

Softdial Campaign Manager™

Comprehensive configuration and control for outbound campaigns

Softdial Repository™

Softdial Repository™

Central storage and configuration of common resources

Sytel Global Compliance™

Sytel Global Compliance™

Flexible 'no contact' rules to protect contact center and consumer

Markets

Performance and efficiency for a wide range of business applications

Customer Service

Customer Service

Connect quickly to well equipped agents

Sales & Telemarketing

Sales & Telemarketing

Maximise agent productivity with best-of-breed predictive dialing

Healthcare

Healthcare

Secure, highly-configurable multichannel communications for excellence in patient care

Market Research

Market Research

Best-of-breed predictive dialing with CATI integration

Collections

Collections

Automated inbound/ outbound blending integrated with any debt management app