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.

Related Articles:

Different Preferences, Same Expectations: Can Your CX Platform Handle it All?

When was the last time you as a customer used live chat to interact with a brand? How about a self-service option like IVR? Have you ever received an automated message with a discount, or perhaps an appointment reminder? Chances are, you’ve engaged in at least one of these forms of service at some point. In fact, I’m willing to bet you frequently use them. I do, too. That’s because we now live in a world where our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. This has thrown a wrench into the standard CX platform.

These service examples are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of today, more than 3 million people will have chatted with Amazon Echo’s AI assistant, Alexa. Over 70 million people will have enjoyed listening to Spotify’s automated “Discover Weekly” playlist. U.S. sales of Google Home smart speakers increased by 40% in Q3 2017 alone, reaching 7 million units. In a very short amount of time, automation has evolved from static and human-operated to dynamic and autonomously learning.

Because of this growth, automation is now everywhere we are and in everything we do. It is proven to transform experiences and enhance the outcome of nearly every customer interaction. The ROI is there, too. For example, research has found that after customers start using Echo, their spending increases by 10%. Bottom line: businesses should be aggressively working to embed automation into their existing IT ecosystems.

But what about your traditional customers? Like I mentioned above, our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. Not always.

This makes me think of my father. He’s your typical 85-year-old customer who will never consume digital services. His modality of communication will always be voice, and that’s perfectly fine. But he still expects a personalized, end-to-end experience. For example, if he calls his healthcare provider with a question, he expects the organization to know who he is and to have his health records pulled up prior to that first “hello.”

And this brings us to an important point: it doesn’t matter how services are consumed, the experience must be the same. So, how can companies meet expectations across the board? First, they must gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey, whatever that looks like. Then they need to build technology that adapts to that. Let’s dig into this…

Context: The Crux of Next-Gen CX

When I say, “gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey,” what I really mean is gain a context-driven understanding. After all, every experience will differ depending on the circumstance. Here are two examples to show you what I mean:

  • A customer (let’s call her Becky) is in the car driving to JFK airport. She called your contact center about an hour ago and requested through IVR to be put into your automated callback system. Her place has been reached in the queue and now it’s time to reach out. However, your system shows she’s currently driving 70 mph on I-95 south. So, although she normally prefers video chat, you choose to connect via a traditional voice call instead.
  • Becky later vents on Twitter about poor service she received from the restaurant in her hotel. With the ability to bring social analytics to the agent desktop, the hotel can have its support team proactively reach out to let her know they noticed her post from five minutes ago expressing dissatisfaction and ask if there’s any way they can help make things right.

A True Next-Gen CX Platform

Regardless of whether customer preferences evolve, your CX platform must in order to drive real-time responsiveness, anticipatory engagement, and intelligent communication at the individual level.

So, what should this next-gen CX platform look like? This isn’t something that can be summed up in a nutshell, but I’ll take a stab: companies need a platform that provides the utmost flexibility for them to bring the right technologies together with the right modality of interactions in an open world (if you have time, I recommend reading this five-part series where I detail the core components of this next-gen platform).

The key here is to be agile and flexible enough to give each individual customer the choice to get what he or she wants, as well as respond to their needs quickly and efficiently. I’d like to focus on two things here:

  • The full integration of UC, contact center, and AI to begin immediately developing features and applications that meet different customer, organizational and vertical needs. Technology has evolved to the point where it no longer takes 10, 12 or 18 months to build a targeted, feature-rich release. A next-gen CX platform offers the necessary levels of agility, flexibility, scale, and openness companies need to very quickly develop these solutions. Or, they can release small footprints of incremental functionality within the platform. Companies can develop at their own paces, depending on their goals.
  • An open data model that rapidly integrates various information sources to present a full visualization of the customer journey. Companies must now bring an immense amount of information together to make smart, real-time decisions (something human beings are incapable of doing). This is where AI, machine learning, and contextual analytics come into play. This is how your contact center will be able to see that Becky tweeted about poor service five minutes ago, and that she engaged in three web chat sessions the week prior. The integration of AI with Becky’s smart vehicle enables you to see statistics like speed and traffic to maximize her service experience. An open data model enables organizations to truly capitalize on big data to make impactful, real-time decisions that transform the individual customer experience.

Note the emphasis on contextual analytics: real-time contextual analytics are needed to continually transform individual experiences as well as handle today’s large volume of different interactions (our Director of Customer and Team Engagement Laura Bassett does a great job breaking down contextual analytics vs. traditional analytics in this blog).

The future of customer experience will be supported by a next-gen digital platform that’s capable of seamlessly converging UC, contact center, and AI. Long gone are the days of proprietary schemes. Long live digital, automated, data-driven experiences!

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.