My Cloud Service Crashed. Where’s the Support?
You may remember from my post When the Cloud Crashes that you can pretty much count on your cloud service going down on (hopefully very rare) occasion.
Before jumping into the weeds and talking about support, let’s set a baseline on what we mean by “support.” Although this may seem very simple to most, support has many types and flavors and even a wider array of expectations from the user community. There are several types of support:
- Online self-service support via a website
- Phone support using an automated system
- Phone support to a person offshore
- Phone support to a person locally
- Onsite support from a third-party contracted by the actual vendor
- Onsite support from the actual vendor
Anyone that has dealt with any type of technology issue, whether it’s your internet service not working at home, software problems at the office, computer viruses or major outages has probably experienced one, if not all, of the types of support listed above. And most of us, when dealing with support, have found it can bring out a very dark and nasty side of us due to the frustration associated with support.
Sometimes Support Doesn’t Feel Very Supportive
How many times have you called a support phone number only to get caught in a never-ending loop of phone commands – press 1 if you need support with X, press 2 if you need support with Y and so on.
Or you call and get an actual human on the phone, but it is someone in a distant time-zone with a very thick accent named “Steve” who starts walking you through a written script that you have already tried ten times.
Or better yet, you are referred to a website with a “support” link that literally has no phone number or ability to reach a real person.
And my favorite, a technician shows up that clearly works for a different company, has no idea what your problem is and after spending 30 minutes looking at the problem tells you they don’t have the right parts to fix the issue and they’ll need to reschedule another support technician.
I myself have experienced all of the above and had veins popping out of my forehead after spending 30 minutes with no progress and no answers.
Cloud Support Should Not Just Be in the Cloud
Vendors provide one, many or all of the support types based on the solution you are using, their chosen service delivery model and the severity of the problem. Cloud providers are no different, except for one major exception – virtually none of them offer or want to offer any type of onsite support.
Cloud, by definition, is an offsite service that can be located anywhere in the world. Cloud providers only want to have enough staff on-hand to support any needs they can handle remotely or within the datacenter itself. Sending someone onsite would be too costly and logistically difficult for them to manage.
Remote support may actually be just fine 99% of the time. The tools to perform remote support are constantly improving. But what if it takes 2 days to get support for your business, even if the vendor is able to fix it in 5 minutes? That delay often is unacceptable to most businesses.
See any trends here? The key to cloud support is understanding beforehand what processes, procedures and service levels the cloud provider includes and will commit to. Remote support may be fine, but your business needs probably require a response within 2 hours, not 2 days.
The Power of the Service Level Agreement
This is all defined in the “service level agreement” (SLA) the cloud provider will commit to. It can and should vary based on your business requirements.
You may be in a critical industry where you need response in less than an hour (think banking transactions), or you may be fine with a service level that will respond in the next business day.
The service level may also vary for each of the actual software programs you use in your business. You may need 2-hour response for you retail credit-card processing systems, where 8 hour response is fine for your internal marketing system.
Defining the service levels your business requires is the first step to ensuring you don’t set yourself up for a disappointing and frustrating support situation. The leaders of the business should lock themselves in a room and determine what the support requirements are for each of the business’s services from a “must have” and a “nice to have” standpoint before selecting a cloud service.
The “must have” and “nice to have” parameter is a very important difference to flush out because your business leaders will have different opinions. How many times have you seen all the staff scramble in a panic when the CEO can’t print, and they scream it is a “911” that needs immediate response? Happens all the time. What about when the cloud accounting system is actually down and you cannot send invoices or process payments? Now that sounds like a real 911 to me. Flushing this out will save many headaches later.
Once you have defined the desired service levels, you can then ask each cloud provider what their support processes are, what service levels they will commit to and what to expect when support is needed.
Generally speaking, the more general and public the service, the more commitments of support are reduced. The more customized and private the service, the higher the commitment of support.
For example, if you use the free cloud file sharing service from Dropbox and you have a support need, you will have to wait in line with the masses. If you have your own private customized cloud file-sharing service, you would expect more expedient and personal support.
The Cloud Class System
SLAs can also be determined by what class of service you are using in the cloud. Let’s define three classes to use as an example:
As you can see, the different classes of service come with different commitment levels for uptime, response time, support coverage, etc.
They would also be priced differently. A Class A service would be priced higher than a Class C service due to the higher vendor cost associated with providing that class of service.
The support you receive is typically commensurate with the class of service. Although many cloud providers may not define it exactly this way, you can still ask the questions to determine the various service level commitments and support parameters. This also will help you manage your own expectations when needing support. If you expect Class A support with a Class C service you are setting yourself up for frustration.
When Support Fails
At minimum, every cloud provider should be able to provide you with information on their own support processes and procedures, including the best method for requesting support and ideally, how to escalate support requests. This often times will include a ticket system using email or a website portal, phone numbers and self-service material. Private cloud providers may even offer onsite support for more customized solutions.
After understanding the support processes and procedures, if you are still unable to get support from your cloud provider within the agreed upon timeframes (remember to set expectations to match what is committed to), you should raise a red flag.
Not getting support can not only be frustrating, it can be extremely harmful to your business. If a cloud vendor misses a support request, it’s not necessarily time to throw them out the window — but you should escalate to the vendor’s service department management to inform them of the incident because many times they will be totally unaware. Generally, first-line support technicians will not want to brag about missing a support request.
Escalating to management will also create a relationship and dialog with a management level resource that can expedite any future issues. If support issues linger, continue to include the service management and ask to escalate above them. The cloud provider may be experiencing growing pains, a shortage in staff or an unusual rash of issues, all of which are temporary. If this is the case, the quality of support should return to normal, which means meeting your expectations.
In the event the vendor continues to fail support needs and miss expectations, it is a real sign that the vendor may be having other issues. If this is the case, you should begin researching alternatives for switching cloud providers so you are ready to ‘pull the trigger’ if things don’t improve. Making idle threats to leave without having a landing spot with a new provider will only make things worse. Although switching is rare and can be painful, I have seen this happen and the client is usually much happier with a new provider.
Another option is to have your IT department or IT vendor represent you in communicating with the cloud provider. Sometimes cloud service technicians use extreme techie terms to describe what they are doing, leaving you with no choice but to believe it must be the right thing. Having an IT person involved will keep the cloud vendor in check and ensure they are not blowing smoke. In other words, keep them accountable.
When Support Comes First
At Fluid, we offer various cloud solutions from fully customizable private cloud (Class A) service to more general out-of-the-box services (Class B). We are admittedly a bit different from all the other cloud providers because we were an IT support company first. This means organizationally we were setup with the processes, procedures and staff to provide “white glove” remote and onsite support for all our clients. When we built our own cloud service offering, we just extended that support to our cloud clients.
The result is our cloud clients have many options for receiving support – email the ticket system, call a help-desk line with local technicians, access various knowledgebase resources, get remote support or even get personal onsite support and training.
Defining what you require for each of the business processes you intend to move to the cloud and including those requirements in your cloud vendor selection process will go a long way in reducing the frustration levels when you have support needs. You should also read the fine print on the cloud provider’s agreement to confirm not only their support level commitments, but also their termination terms. You don’t want to find after the fact that they are missing support commitments, but you are still locked in without a way to terminate without penalties.
Here’s the bottom line. If your company continues to receive poor support or no support, don’t be afraid to change. It’s your business and your data and you have the right to move it.