Avaya Software-Defined Networking 1.0 — Doing it Differently

Let’s start with a few figures that explicitly demonstrate the unparalleled scale and diversity of devices to the Internet of Things:

  • Number of connected devices worldwide in 2016: 5 billion
  • Projected number of connected devices in 2020: 50-75 billion
  • Expected economic impact of IoT by 2025: $10-12 trillion

What’s not so apparent within these statistics is the monumental challenge to security. This is the challenge for every industry vertical, from healthcare to building construction, from FDA-approved medical devices connecting to the network to smarter-connected kitchens: How can they reliably and securely send control and network traffic into the cloud or within an enterprise without being compromised?

Securing the growing number of connected devices used in business—particularly in healthcare—is the focus of the Avaya SDN Fx Healthcare solution. First presented this year at HIMSS, a global healthcare technology conference, the solution is built around open source technologies to protect sensitive medical devices from would be hackers who could use the devices as entry points to the rest of the hospital network and introduce potentially malicious traffic originating on physically compromised devices.

At Avaya, we get it! Every good solution begins with key questions that capture the challenge. Simply put, we started with these three:

  • How can we help businesses address IoT without worrying about network deployment complexities, downtimes, upgrades and patching?
  • How can we provide the same or better level of security, availability and reliability of our customers’ systems as they grow with IoT?
  • How can we enable customers to get these done in a simple manner without massive forklifting or impacting their day to day operations?

Our strategy to overcome these challenges took a multi-prong approach, an open, extensible architecture and an eye toward the end users.

How Avaya Does SDN Differently

First, we implemented a controller-based architecture that creates secure service paths based on the profile of IoT devices connecting. Service profile is a container that encapsulates a network profile which is determined by who is accessing the network and a security profile determined by what is being accessed. This is called an access-context. This access-context-based service enablement ensures on-demand provisioning, putting critical security and compute resources where they are needed the most. The Dial-home feature of our smart IoT gateway device—the Avaya Open Network Adapter—helps ensure that it always connects to the controller to declare itself. Moreover, a combination of certificate, TLS-based authentication allows secure communication between the Open Network Adapter and the controller for safe, reliable control traffic exchange.

The next task was to drive a solution that addresses the potential for and likelihood of human error and system failure. Our underlying strategy therefore focused on insulating critical customer IoT devices and applications from these failure scenarios and delivering millisecond recovery with minimal down time. The Avaya Open Network Adapter—our IoT gateway device—can operate uninterrupted to provide secure connectivity for medical devices even when the connection to the SDN controller is lost or has experienced a failover. This guarantees continuous, secure availability of network resources for mission-critical business workflows.

To further augment our strong belief in availability and reliability, the controller plane architecture embraces a hybrid model of Active-Active and Active-Standby systems. The Active-Active model allows data and resource replications that are critical for southbound control operations. It is important to note that data implies user, application and context along with network details. This is done at a higher layer called the Clustering Engine layer using distributed main-memory database and Advanced Messaging Queuing Protocol (AMQP) bus. AMQP implemented using RabbitMQ allows controller to perform large number of transactions close to 1 million per second. Main memory databases using Mnesia allows distributed, fault tolerant DBMS implementation. Tables can be replicated on different compute nodes with system that guarantees location transparency. Therefore, the application accessing the data requires no knowledge of where the different tables reside. This allows sub-second response time, extremely fast data replication with smaller CPU cycles to execute, which are critical for control operations, high volume data analytics. Linearly scaling cluster implementation allows critical data to be replicated without being shared and thereby improving the overall availability of the data. Active-Standby implementation enabled preservation of singleton data (data that should not be replicated across system) such as licensing details, etc.

The architecture involves Master nodes (>=1) that actively replicate data to ensure guaranteed availability, a leader node that is elected from among master nodes to provide a unique northbound IP interface and host singleton data and a slave nodes (>=0) performing lower level control operations.

The embedded load balancer allows control traffic to be evenly distributed in the cluster comprising of N-nodes (where N<=255), supporting more than 30,000 transactions per second. This allows the controller to cater to any surge in control traffic and handle network storms. Moreover, it facilitates a single virtual IP addressing at the southbound data interface for the IoT devices connecting to the controller and thereby providing a single-system view to the outside world.

To ensure that systems can recover from failed state and that data integrity can be maintained without any compromise after recovery, we implemented a fault-tolerant model that uses a supervisor tree theory. Supervisor tree theory is a hierarchical model and notation that defines what needs to be monitored, remedied within active system. Supervisory tree has leaf nodes that act as independent supervisors looking at their own assigned set of resources and reporting to their parent node. Loosely coupled architecture ensures each leaf supervisory node to act on its behalf making independent decisions based on the operating conditions or from reports from its child nodes and configuration parameters. Remediation typically involves retries and migration of resources.

Last but not least, to ensure complexities don’t precipitate to the application layer, we have implemented a three-tier SDN architecture that is simple to deploy, use and most importantly allows customers to focus on their day to day operations without having worry about infrastructure. Installation is greatly simplified by our zero touch deployment which is unique in the industry. With just three simple commands per node user can deploy the full two-node cluster.

Northbound APIs allow customers, partners and developers to create secure network and connectivity services for their applications without requiring any advanced knowledge of the underlying infrastructure, SDN controller complexities. Application registration and authorization process using OAuth framework extends security to user and application space.

With an average of 12 connected devices per hospital bed and upwards of 100,000 connected devices in a given hospital system, it’s easy to see the need for an architectural model like this to push the accepted limits of the tools openly available. It’s also easy to see the importance of vendors like Avaya being champions for the standardization of these solutions rather than just opportunistically offering up professional services to overwhelmed IT organizations or leaving them to deal with the aftermath of breaches. Securing the diverse array of Things connected to the network and doing so at unprecedented scale is about more than just innovation. It’s a matter of solving the real-world problems faced by our customers in these rapidly changing times.

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Avaya Advanced Solutions for Today Dispel a “Legacy” Label

Having been with Avaya since 2003, I thought I had seen every tactic our competitors could employ against us. However, now that we have been through the toughest of times and are ready to emerge, stronger than ever, I realize I was wrong. The level of FUD our competition is trying to spread, and the lengths they are prepared to go to are a testimony to our strengths. And it tells me one thing: the competition is preparing for the day we exit from Chapter 11. But we already prepared—in fact, we are ready to emerge stronger than ever, together with our ecosystem of people.

There are obvious reasons why Avaya is such a threat to other UC and CC vendors in the market, cloud or not. While a large proportion of our installed base—a loyal installed base that is the envy of the industry—runs what could be called “legacy” solutions, we show up as a totally different company with a different value proposition than the PBX box shifter that the legacy label implies.

Today, we are helping customers achieve their digital transformation objectives, we are creating customer experiences that go beyond digital, and our open platforms are unleashing the creativity of our customers, partners, and teams to drive innovation.

The company that competitors are trying to dismiss as “legacy” is the same company that just presented at GITEX a use case for bringing blockchain into the customer experience. Avaya is leveraging AI capabilities to enhance experiences for our banking and emergency services customers. We are working with fintechs in the Asia-Pacific region to create solutions for their mobile and web customer interactions. Avaya is working with Bosch, a global leader in technology and services, to build the workplace of the future. I am proud to say that the Emirates group recently referenced the work we are doing with dnata as making a positive contribution to their financial results. This is hardly the mark of a legacy vendor.

While our competitors are losing credibility by sticking with the “legacy” tag, the reality is that we are ready to equip our customers, partners, and teams with the tools they need to be more relevant than ever. We’ve re-engineered our platforms and are uniquely positioned to allow our customers and partners to build, test, and deploy their own solutions quickly and securely. This is our commitment to openness coming to life and bringing value to the communities we touch and work with. Once we are free of our debt burden, we will be free to invest in R&D, which will consign the “legacy” tag to the dustbin.

Our competition is dreading the day we emerge from Chapter 11 because they know the real legacy that we bring to the market: an installed base of loyal customers who love and trust our brand and technology, partners who have committed their growth and future to working with Avaya, and a team that is destined to grow and win.

Avaya’s Future Rests on Customers, Partners, and Our People

As Avaya begins a new fiscal year and prepares to emerge from our debt restructuring as a public company, we are thinking a lot about Avaya’s future. We’re on a journey to create a future that includes new value for our customers and new opportunities for our partners. My confidence in the path ahead is based on the expertise, dedication and passion of our people around the world—a team I am honored to lead as the new CEO of Avaya.

Why am I so confident? It’s pretty simple, really:

  • We know how to listen: We have a unique approach in which we work collaboratively with customers to understand their real business requirements. We identify their pain points and help them realize new opportunities—something our competitors seldom do.
  • We deliver: Our teams take ownership and commit to delivering solutions to customers that improve their organizations. We’re not in the business of just selling customers the latest new tech product. We’re in the business of advising customers how to communicate better and create outstanding experiences, so they can achieve their goals.
  • We have the right partners: Our partner community is a key differentiator that enhances the value we deliver to organizations around the world and extends our reach to new customers and markets. We will expand this global ecosystem of channel and technology partners in the future, which is going to enable us to more easily integrate emerging and disruptive technologies into our solutions.

Our people understand more than anyone that everything we do is about our customers. Our installed base of more than 130,000 customers in 220,000 locations is the envy of our industry. This is our “unfair advantage” and the foundation on which we will build Avaya’s future. I also learned as global sales leader this past year that our customers love our technology. Through thick and thin, they’ve continued to embrace our unparalleled solutions. 

Our open architecture not only enables our customers to integrate new technologies while preserving the investments they’ve already made; it also simplifies their adoption of emerging technologies—such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and blockchain. In addition, we are using open interfaces to give developers, partners, and employees the flexibility to bring innovation to market faster than our competitors, and ultimately transform the customer experience.

I believe Avaya is in a leading position to help customers compete today and prepare for the competitive environment of the future. By enabling people to communicate and interact in new and compelling ways, we are providing the power to change, influence and impact others around us, and experience the world in new and meaningful ways. We’re looking forward to working with our customers, partners and people to achieve great things together.

Only 13% of Companies Succeed with CX: Here’s What They’re Getting Right

Over the last few weeks in my blogs, I’ve been doubling down on several key areas of a next-gen platform that organizations must consider. For example, I simplified the concept of next-gen IT for keeping up with the speed of digital change. I broke down the top barriers preventing brands from capitalizing on AI/automation. I discussed how to successfully bring legacy into a new world of IoT. Most recently, I explored the limitless possibility of a fully open, extensible, multi-vendor ecosystem.

But what does this all boil down to? That would be the fifth and final key area of a next-gen platform, which is undoubtedly most important of all: the customer/citizens experience (CX).

Now the No. 1 indicator of strategic performance is this: more than 80% of companies recognize the CX as a major differentiator. It builds customer trust, reduces costs, and boosts employee engagement levels. But, as we all know, companies are still struggling to execute their strategies. I’m talking about a lot of companies. So much that only 13% rate their CX delivery a nine out of 10 or better.

There’s something seriously wrong with these numbers. It’s encouraging to see such organizational awareness of the CX; however, the number of companies succeeding is worrisome at best. In an age of rapid digital innovation, we’re still seeing far too many disjointed CX strategies. So, just what’s going on here?

The Three-Step Process That Guarantees CX Delivery

It’s time to get down to brass tacks. Here’s a three-step process that, if followed correctly, will substantially improve CX delivery in today’s smart, digital world:

STEP 1: Clearly understand the kind of experience you’re trying to deliver

Big data analytics? Check. Omnichannel? Check. What about Ambient-Context (real-time input from IOTs)? Check. End-to-end network segmentation? Check. What about AI integration for automation? Check.

Now, what kind of experience are you trying to deliver with these technologies? As Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.” CX awareness doesn’t necessarily mean an understanding of what CX really is: a representation of each individual organization’s brand values and personality.

So, what does this mean? Before implementing any new technology, companies should engage in an introspective phase that enables them to understand who they are as a brand and how this translates into the user experience they want to deliver. During this time of reflection, companies should try not to rely on the status quo. As Henry Ford famously said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” In today’s world of seemingly limitless customer and business outcomes, the worst thing a company can do is box itself in. That’s not how digital giants like Apple, Facebook and Amazon forever changed the CX paradigm (not to mention sell billions of dollars of product each year). Before anything else, take time to creatively diversify and reimagine the CX within your industry.

STEP 2: Validate that experience

So, you know the kind of experience you want to deliver. Now, how do you validate it? In other words, how can you know for certain that the experience you want to deliver is what end-users actually get? This is where the explosive amount of data within your organization becomes vital. It’s imperative that brands track, collect and share data across multiple different knowledge sources to validate the CX. This is an understandable pain point considering recent research. Data analytics is listed as one of 2017’s top technology trends, yet:

  • About half of all analytic systems currently don’t meet customer/organizational requirements.
  • More than 60% of companies have no analysis capability that combines data from all channels.
  • Only 41% use analytics to customize the CX.

Lack of sophisticated analytics is largely why 44% of organizations think CX is too difficult. Brands must prioritize data exchange by seamlessly integrating disparate systems in an open, agile ecosystem. At the end of the day, transforming the CX comes down to the data available to help brands continually enhance, validate and push the envelope. It’s time for companies to put their data to work; otherwise, they’re competing blind.

STEP 3: Continually innovate/improve that experience with the right technology

Mobility, cloud, social, omnichannel, Ambient-Context, AI, ML, big data analytics … the list goes on in terms of tech implementation. In the end, the tech used to continually innovate and improve will differ depending on varying company requirements. This means one thing: brands need an open, integrated, future-proof architecture platform that enables them to securely develop services and apps that meet exact customer and vertical needs.

When it comes to the CX, the challenge is not so much tech implementation but rather customization. This is why 42% of organizations say their digital systems fall short of current needs, and why nearly 75% believe their current technologies will fail to meet future needs. A shift to customization is what will enable companies to swiftly overcome two of the top three factors currently hindering CX capabilities: inflexible legacy systems and technology silos.

Less than half of organizations are not fully involved in designing their technology systems. We need more businesses involving themselves in the design stage of their tech ecosystems, keeping customization top of mind.

These five key areas of a next-gen platform—next-gen IT, IoT, AI/automation, open ecosystem, customer/citizens experience—are collectively propelling companies into a new and exciting era. Organizations across every industry will soon see a profound shift in how their services are consumed and how end-users experience their brand. The key is being nimble, innovative and adaptable enough to survive not only this transitional era, but the many that will undoubtedly happen in the future.