This blog is a write up on one of the best webinars hosted by Serverless360, “Building a frictionless Azure Support Workflow”, presented by Michael Stephenson. In this session, Michael Stephenson, Microsoft Azure MVP, who has extensive experience coaching organizations to adopt Microsoft Azure successfully, will walk us through the Serverless360, highlighting the product capabilities to address the business challenges from an operational and support perspective.
Why is Azure support hard for organizations?
The above question falls as the base for this webinar. To understand the challenges, let us consider a real-world project.
Enterprise Integration Platform
We find many customers have a toolkit to build certain types of solutions. One among those is this classical toolkit based on an SEO integration platform. If your company is building integration solutions at scale on Azure, you’ll probably be using these types of features here. This integration has got things like Logic Apps, API management, Data Factory etc. When you think about how many different technologies and skillsets are required to build a solution and support a solution, there are a few challenges,
Firstly, it isn’t easy to get senior experience in all these different technologies. On the other hand, when you think about the support of your IT systems, planning to have people who can have enough experience in all these technologies either costs you a lot of money or is a complex problem to solve.
Enterprise Data Management Platform
The challenges don’t stop with the integration area. Some customers also work with enterprise data platform selection. Customers building a data platform has things like data lake synapse, SQL, Event Hubs, Cosmos DB, and a similar toolkit. There’s a lot of these features, which can take part in multiple reference architectures. If you think about Functions, Logic Apps, Data Factories, they are common to different solutions. Again, we’ve got quite a lot of technologies that you need to be aware of and how to support them.
LAMP Customer Portal Application
Let us consider a LAMP stack migration from AWS to Azure PaaS, moving from infrastructure to the platform as a service and vendor. Again, we’ve got some technologies involved here. There are things like Web Apps, Redis Cache, and a whole boatload of things. The problem in the previous scenarios is we have all these different technologies, and how do you support this solution at scale?
We have looked at three different scenarios so far, and the familiar challenge across all of them is a requirement to have a lot of support for other skills. These are the challenges that you face while dealing with such integrations,
- How many experts does your organization have who can cover all those skills?
- How many people do you have in each area who are skilled enough to support the day-to-day business running versus the actual development of a new solution?
It is a complex space to find people who can support your solutions effectively without having to always fall back on the small group of experts who built the key in the first place.
Role of Support in an Organisation
Let us consider a typical support use case, commonly known as the path of support most organizations have. We have business users who would probably get a call from their end-users telling them they need a bit of help or clarification. If they can’t help, they escalate it to level one IT support. The level one support further pushes it to level two and level three, and that goes through to experienced developers and then experts at the end.
Find the common challenges below,
- The everyday things we see in organizations are for many cloud solutions, level one and two IT support, and business users have very little visibility of what is going on behind the scenes. All they may see is a pretty UI at the end of it. But they can’t do a lot due to lack of visibility and many security challenges around the support of a solution.
- Next up, we have the level three support person, and quite often, they might not have enough experience to support the solution. They may have some access and expertise of specific bits, but they can’t do much.
- In many companies, the support cases tend to always go to the developers or the experts, and very few of these support cases can be dealt with by level one, two, and three support. That is a big problem for many organizations. The more time your developers and your experts are spent dealing with day-to-day support activities, the more you’re not delivering business value, and the more your total cost of ownership would go up.
The final question is, “Can we do something about that?” and that is when Serverless360 comes into play. Further in this blog, we will see how the challenges mentioned above are addressed with Serverless360’s core pillars.
Serverless360 – A support platform engineered for your Microsoft Azure Resources
Serverless360 allows us to group our physical components and assets into logical solutions. We can then monitor and manage them from a single pane, making it easier to transition our solutions into business-as-usual support processes. We see this as a critical element in the enterprise adoption of the serverless solution. There are three core pillars in Serverless360,
Each pillar has its capability and can solve different needs. Among these three modules, two modules fit into our above use case, the Business Application and Business Activity Monitoring.
Let us consider an Invoice Processing scenario where we can clearly understand the capabilities of the Serverless360 modules,
The above integration has multiple Azure resources running in which various support problems would occur. First off, we will have a look at how Business Activity Monitoring can help us.
If we think back to the support problem, probably one of the most common scenarios we would come across in this use case would be the business users are saying, “have we received invoice number three yet?”. They might escalate that to the superuser, or they might work together. The problem that would commonly arise here is, “we can’t see the SAP, but we have got no idea what’s going on”. The escalation keeps proceeding and reaches level three support. The level three support person might have a bit of access to Azure, or they can troubleshoot a little bit of stuff. Due to lack of skill, it gets pushed further to the development. The development team probably looked at the Logic App and found an SAP error. The feedback goes to the business users, and a day or two later, that invoice gets processed. There was a lot of wastage in the scenario of people being asked a question they can’t answer because they don’t have access to the experience.
Business Activity Monitoring
The Business Activity Monitoring targets the Business Super Users, Level One, and Level Two IT support. The idea is to give them a consumable view of what is happening in their business processes that allows them to have a degree of self-service. If we let them self-serve, they can deal with some of the day-to-day questions and problems we might have in the system.
Business Activity Monitoring provides,
- Transactional view to understand the flow and troubleshoot the failed transactions
- Add custom properties to the stages to filter the transactions accordingly with the help of query search
- Reprocess the failed stages right away at Serverless360
- Get an analytical view with the help of Dashboard
Apart from the technical benefits, BAM also helps from an organizational perspective. The below picture explains how BAM helps us to attain a frictionless support workflow,
Let us see how BAM helped us during our last weekly release. During our previous release, 30 interfaces went into our previous UAT cycle. The Business Analysts presented an end-to-end demo of the integrated solution. The Business Application showed how the integrations work, but we could showcase real-time visibility with BAM. There were zero touches from the Integration team; also, we had a massive reduction in support overhead during testing. Overall the number of defects raised were reduced.
Next up, we have got Business Applications. If we think back to the support process, this time we might have a different problem where the business might get this thought “The invoice processing system might not be working, is it broken?”. They can’t tell because they don’t have any visibility. There is a support call to level one and two support, but they escalate it due to lack of visibility. Level three support has visibility to the problem but is unsure about the solution and escalates it to Developers to solve it. Again, that took a few days to all happen, and the need here would be to do something about that to reduce the time and increase the resolving capability
You can also take a look at our pillar page dedicated to Distributed tracing to get better insights on the topic.
The Business Application is aimed at the level one, two, and three support people. The intention is that without you being an Azure expert, can you grip some resources together from Azure in a way that lets them be described as an application. Then we can give them some basic training to support the day-to-day operations of the application and put a degree of automated monitoring there.
Business Application provides,
- Better visibility by logically grouping the Azure resources into different applications
- Consolidated monitoring at the application level with the help of custom monitoring profiles
- Reduction of manual effort in managing the failures with Automated Tasks
- The picturization of the complete Business Application along with its monitoring status
Apart from the technical benefits, Business Applications also help from an organizational perspective. The below picture explains how Business Application allows us to attain a frictionless support workflow,
- Reduced Total Cost of Ownership, with better application visibility, safely move support to the Support Team
- Increased Operational Efficiency, enable support team with the right toolset and allow the Azure Team to innovate
- Improved Customer Satisfaction, with continuous monitoring, achieve quicker Average Response Time
In this blog, we briefed about building a frictionless Azure support workflow in Azure. We came across the challenges in support workflow and found Serverless360 to be an ideal solution. With Serverless360, we can let them do a lot more than they can do now,
- without them having to go into the Azure Portal
- and navigate the maze to find the right resources that they need to troubleshoot a particular problem.
- We can move 70% of the support to L1, L2 and L3, and the idea is to lower the support costs for your organization for the solutions you build on. As you know, that is the business problem we are trying to solve.
- Achieve better customer experience by taking quicker time to resolve and providing customer self-service for minor support.
- Lower the total cost of ownership by receiving fewer support calls and keeping away developers and experts to spend more time delivering value to the organization.
I hope this blog was helpful. Also, check out Michael Stephenson’s session at https://www.serverless360.com/webinar/building-a-frictionless-azure-support-workflow