Why Customer Support is Integral to Ensuring High Availability

For any organization relying on business-critical applications, ensuring high availabilityof the applications and databases is not merely a goal; it's an essential strategy. Often, however, the complexity of applications and databases within the IT infrastructure makes it a complicated task.

To achieve application HA - defined at 99.99 percent uptime per year - organizations need not only robust HA software that protects all layers of their systems, including networking, storage, OS, hardware, and the application, but also a support team that has a profound understanding of those layers of the IT stack. The quality of the customer support team is often overlooked when choosing HA vendors, but in fact, to succeed in ensuring continuous availability and minimizing downtime of your organization’s systems, customer support holds the key.

Vendors and service providers who must provide customers with continuous access to applications have to ensure that their underlying infrastructures are built and operated in a way that supports their customers' always-on expectations. Applications and databases have to be always running to both meet customer demand and maximize company productivity and revenue. 

Applications sit at the top of the infrastructure stack. To be operational, every part of that stack, including networking, storage, OS, hardware, and the application itself, needs to be operational and accessible. Downtime could be caused by a wide range of issues in any part of this stack.

To provide HA, organizations typically use clustering software to configure their entire application environment for redundancy. Your application is run on a primary server that is clustered with one or more secondary servers. The clustering software monitors the health of the application and, if it detects a failure, moves application operation to a secondary server in the cluster in a process called a failover.

Application high availability is an intrinsically complicated undertaking that requires not only a reliable, well-designed, and well-tested HA environment but also a support team that has deep expertise in HA-specific environments. 

Due to the complexity of ensuring HA of applications, organizations should determine whether the customer support team for their HA solution is actually supportive. How can you find out? 

Here are some of the questions you could ask to ensure the expertise of the support team for your HA solution. Answering these questions will help you not only evaluate the quality of the customer support but also understand the key factors that determine the excellence of the team.

  1. Are they willing to give you tailored guidance?
    Can your support team provide guidance on best practices for creating an application-aware clustering environment? Are they willing to ask tough questions and insist on fair and accurate solutions? Are they skilled at navigating troubleshooting with you, even during the most critical moments? Your support team should be interacting with you, not merely reading a script.

  2. Do they understand more than just their product?
    Some support organizations are designed to simply determine whether the source of your issue is their product or not. If not, they send you on to the cloud, storage, OS, or other vendor to get your problem resolved. Look for a support team that can work with you to get your issue resolved wherever it originates. For example, if the issue lies outside their product, can they give you guidance on how to work with the other vendor to resolve your issue? 

  3. How experienced are they?
    Every customer challenge is different. Support representatives need to be experienced, highly trained professionals. Support for these critical environments can't be provided by reading scripts and providing cookie-cutter solutions. To give you the level of support stated in the previous question, the support team needs to have significant knowledge about not only their own products but also all adjacent infrastructure systems from servers to OS to databases.

  1. How well do they listen?
    Does your support team listen to fully understand the environment, requirements, and needs of your business both before, during, and after an issue? Can they pick up on little details and discern, even during high-stress calls, your priority needs? While some teams are very knowledgeable about clustering, applications, databases, and storage they are not great listeners. Listening well and asking questions for clarity is an essential skill when navigating and troubleshooting issues.

As technologies evolve, demands from customers and service users keep increasing, requiring service providers to offer customers always-available services. The key to staying ahead in this race is to understand the importance of relying on your support team for your HA solution. Ask questions that might seem out of their scope; if they are an excellent HA support team, their focus is on helping you address your issue not on getting you off the phone. They will guide you through troubleshooting in an accurate, professional manner and demonstrate that they are your trusted advisors. By recognizing the indispensable role of customer support, organizations can transform challenges into opportunities.

Cassius Rhue is vice president of customer experience at SIOS Technology.